Good morning, Mr. Vonk. Are you here?
Good morning, and welcome to a Live Chat with GF&P Secretary Jeffrey Vonk.
The Outdoor Campus West opened in September. How has the facility been received?
With a lot of excitement. We are still working on details regarding classes and working with school groups. Bottom line we are all excited about the facility and the opportunities for outreach to the Rapid and surrounding communities.
The Sioux Falls campus I understand has a lot of elementary school classes and older kids using the Outdoor Campus East. Are area schools discovering the educational opportunities at the Outdoor Campus West?
While we are waiting - just want to let people know the walleye fishing on Oahe and below the dam is still great!
Getting ready for West River deer this weekend - hope folks have a great weekend. Weather looks to be a bit warmer than we would like - but should be a great time to be in the field.
While we are on the subject of fishing, we have a question about Sheridan Lake.
Jeff, we have teacher, Jeff, Laughlin, with a question.
We have a Black Hills wide restriction on trout as a part of the trout management program. We stock some large trout for angler harvest. You have a point regarding the northern
pike - a continual challenge. It is difficult to manage for exceptions (Sheridan Lake). I will discuss this further with the fish management folks. Not sure that we can't do better. Thanks for the comment and question.
We are continuing work on our mt. lion population. We are also looking at an expanded effort in the area of elk calf mortality. Looking at more work regarding big horn sheep populations and survival rates. Wea are also doing work on being better able to estimate the trends in our deer population - especially in the black hills.
The GF&P Commission increased the mountain lion harvest in the Black Hills again. Are you surprised by the mountain lion population’s rebound in the Black Hills?
Regarding lions - we have a grad student looking at prey selection and we continue to monitor for population size.
Are there any game animals in the Black Hills or West River plains whose populations and habitat are stressed?
The Commission did increase the harvest quota this coming season to 70 animals. The population was well established in 2007 when I came to SD. We are working to find the right balance between having a sustainable lion population that is within the tolerance limits we have socially. We have a population goal of around 150-200 in the Black Hills. We believe that we will be in that range - probabl
y on the low end - after this coming hunting season.
Are there any game animals whose populations and habitat are stressed?
Interesting question. Our deer and elk numbers are down in the Hills - but would not say stressed. As we manage for lower harvest of cows and does - we expect those numbers to rebound. In the prairie, we have low numbers of antelope - particularly in the northwest - due to several severe winters in a row. Sage grouse is a species under stress that is probably habitat related.
Thanks, Jeffrey. Here's another question from Jeff Laughlin.
We do use student researchers from SDSU for many of our research efforts. Student helpers can be used when appropriate. Locally, John Kanta in our Rapid City Office would be a good contact to see if there are any such appropriate opportunities.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard modified GF&P’s “open fields” enforcement policy. How has the new policy been working? Do landowners appreciate the change?
So far, it appears that things are going fine. I have asked my officers to let me know of situations where they believe the policy change has hindered their ability to do their jobs. I have not heard directly from landowners on the new policy - know from media reports that some are happy.
It seems there have been fewer complaints by landowners and hunters, at least publicly, about GF&P’s game wardens in recent years. Has the department made more of an effort to work with landowners on hunting issues?
The Department has emphasized landowner outreach for years. We have asked our officers to take time to stop and visit with landowners in person to get a sense of what is on their minds. That effort does seem to be paying off. When an issue arises - the landowner knows our officer personally and is
able to make contact with a person they know as opposed to just a person in a uniform.
Here's another question from Jeff Laughlin, who apparently has his class following our Live Chat.
So far - to our knowledge no.
Thanks, Jeffrey. You mentioned earlier that walleye fishing was great at Oahe. Did the flooding along the Missouri River have an affect on fish population?
We ae still trying to assess the potential impacts going forward. We know that a lot of smelt were sucked through the tubes at Oahe dam with the record water releases this summer. We are continuing to conduct electronic (sonar) surveys of forage fish in an effort to assess whether we believe there will be any long term negative affects to our game fish above the dam. Don't have a clear picture yet - expect to have more information
this winter/early spring. In the meantime, I hope people will take advantage of nice weather and come out fishing.
A reader asks if there are any plans for a shooting range at the Outdoor Campus.
Standard firearm shooting range opportunities at the campus site are limited. We are looking at possible expanded archery shooting range and an air rifle range. Had a chance to see a facility in Nebraska last summer that had an air rifle range - very neat facility.
As you are no doubt aware, not everyone agrees with the state's policy regarding hunting mountain lions. Shari asks why hunt mountain lions.
We are constantly looking for opportunities to expand shooting ranges. So - even if not at the Campus, we would consider the options at a stattel
ite location. Thanks for the comment.
Probably hard to explain it to you based on the framework of your
question. We look to find the balance of maintaining a viable lion population while also maintaining sufficient opportunities for outdoor recreation beyond wildife watching - that is, hunting and fishing.
We are at the end of our Live Chat with GF&P Secretary Jeffrey Vonk. Thank you, Mr. Vonk, for the interview, and thank you to our readers for joining us.
k you for watching. Hope you get to visit the campus facility - we are proud of what is there.