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Published August 17, 2009, 07:58 AM

South Dakota crops damaged by wildlife, birds

ABERDEEN — More reports of coyotes are coming from northeast South Dakota this year, which is also among the worst years for crop damage by Canada geese in lake-studded Day County and other East River counties.
That’s according to the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks — and farmers.

By: Russ Keen, The Associated Press

ABERDEEN — More reports of coyotes are coming from northeast South Dakota this year, which is also among the worst years for crop damage by Canada geese in lake-studded Day County and other East River counties.

That’s according to the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks — and farmers.

“Geese are eating our soybeans and wipe out the whole area where they feed,” Ethan Gaikowski, 16, of rural Waubay, said Wednesday. He is the son of farmer Bernard Gaikowski.

Geese plunder their farm every year, and this year it’s bad, Ethan said.

Kelly Cape of the federal Farm Service Agency for Day County said higher water levels this year probably explain why more geese are in the area. He, too, is hearing reports of more crop damage by geese. The federal farm program does not reimburse farmers for these losses, Cape said.

The state tries to keep geese numbers down but can’t always do what it would like, said Art Smith, head of wildlife damage management at Game, Fish and Parks. Budget restraints are one factor.

Also, the department often requests additional days of goose hunting and higher limits for the number of geese that hunters can take. That’s a federal process, Smith said, and these requests are not always met — including one for this year.

Actual killing of the geese or any other wildlife species that eats crops or livestock is a last resort for the state, and not something it likes to do, Smith said. In Day County, his staff has destroyed nests, removed adult geese and installed fences around fields where damage was most severe in Day County, he said.

His office must be sensitive to the needs of hunters and landowners, he said. “It’s tough to find a middle ground sometimes.”

The East River goose population is about twice the 60,000 that Game, Fish and Parks would like to maintain. The early goose hunting season starts Sept. 5.

For the state as a whole, the favorable news for livestock farmers is that more fox are around. That’s a reliable indicator that coyote numbers are down, Smith said. The two species do not like to share the same habitat.

Coyotes prey on farm animals, particularly lambs and newborn calves, he said, while fox are less likely to go after domesticated animals, he said.

“Many more fox are being seen in the state,” Smith said.

Even so, “Coyote numbers are coming back up in the northeast part of the state, and we do still have livestock producers affected by coyotes, East River and West River.”

It’s difficult to take a census of coyotes or fox, he said.

In the Aberdeen area, Campbell County historically has had more coyote problems than other counties. This year, however, Campbell County Extension educator David Vander Vleet said he is hearing about the same number of complaints as usual.

Pheasants, blackbirds and deer also can cause problems for South Dakota farmers, Smith said. Pheasants eat corn seeds before they emerge from the ground. Blackbirds eat sunflower seeds before they are harvested, and deer eat crops.

Controlling wildlife numbers is a touchy political issue nationwide. Some environmental groups call for an end to the use of taxpayer dollars to kill wild animals. Livestock associations counter by pointing to the millions of dollars their members lose annually as a result of predation.

Gunning coyotes from airplanes is a federal effort, Smith said.

The state works from the ground through trapping, shooting and snaring. His department has 23 such grounds people, who respond to complaints from livestock and crop producers, as do conservation officers.

The state’s wildlife management measures related to livestock deaths are financed by a combination of federal and state dollars.

Crop depredation relief measures in the state are funded by a surcharge on most big-game hunting licenses, Smith said.

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