PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The ongoing drought in South Dakota has been hard on the state's wildlife.
The U.S. Forest Service says the grouse population in the Fort Pierre National Grassland has declined by 15% in 2022, largely because of the dry conditions.
The total grouse population has averaged around 300 since the mid-1980s. Over the last twenty years, both greater prairie chicken and sharp-tailed grouse populations have primarily remained stable or have grown.
“The thing that I think was really damaging to us last year was we had record high and record dry conditions in early June, right when those birds started incubation or, for the earlier semester, to hatch. And boy, that’s just so tough on a chick to thermoregulate and be able to find sufficient moisture,” District Ranger Dan Svingen said.
Greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse both nest on the ground and require tall grass to hide their nests, the Capital Journal reported.
Because they start laying eggs as early as April, before sufficient grass growth, they’re dependent on dead grass from the previous year as cover. However, the drought prevented extensive grass growth in 2021 leaving them more exposed to predators in 2022.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a little more than 76% of South Dakota is experiencing some kind of drought.
The drought has also affected the population of other wildlife in the Fort Pierre National Grassland both directly and indirectly.
“Our duck production is going to be way down because of the state of the water and those natural wetlands and stock ponds. Our fish population, 80-100 of those ponds support recreational fisheries, and that’s very hard to support, fish need water,” Svingen said.