Early Ditch Mowing Hurts South Dakota’s Nesting Pheasants


The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department reminds East River landowners to check the calendar before they start mowing ditches along state highways.

State rules provide that no mowing of the right-of-way may begin east of the Missouri River before July 10, and all mowing by permit must be completed by Sept. 1 each year.

Earlier mowing of road ditches endangers one of the state’s most valuable natural resources: the ring-necked pheasant.

“It’s very important that pheasants nesting in grass cover remain undisturbed,” said Jeff Vonk, secretary of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. “This rule was developed as a compromise, taking into consideration both a need to protect nesting pheasants and the need that producers have for livestock forage. In many areas of the state, road ditches provide significant nesting cover and annually produce a lot of pheasants.”

Those pheasants, in turn, help shape South Dakota’s economy.

“Pheasants and pheasant hunting don’t just provide recreational benefits for hunters,” Vonk said. “Pheasant populations help ensure the economic well-being of many communities across the state during the fall hunting season.”

The state Department of Transportation’s mowing regulation along state highways was developed in large part to protect nesting pheasants and young chicks. Early June through August is a critical time for nesting pheasant hens.

“Due to the importance of roadsides to nesting pheasants, we’re asking that landowners delay mowing right-of-way ditches as long as possible to give nesting hens a chance to hatch their broods,” Vonk said.

The rule does allow the Department of Transportation to begin mowing the right-of-way before the July 10 start date if there is a need to provide increased safety to the traveling public or to control noxious weeds.

For more information, contact DOT at 605-773-3265 or GFP at 605-773-3381.

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