Northern Butte County is desolate. Few roads crisscross the wind-swept prairie where cattle and sheep and wildlife graze. But that same wind-swept prairie may make for one of the best offices in the world – but it’s one of the reasons Chad Sebade loves his job.
“The sunrises and sunsets are amazing out here,” Sebade said on a recent morning as the sun kissed the horizon near Deers Ears Butte.
Suddenly, two red fox ran from near the road out into the pasture. Sebade stopped his South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks pickup but as fast as the foxes appeared they were gone.
“They don’t like fox out here either,” Sebade said of the ranchers who raise sheep in the area.
This is why he’s on the back roads north of Belle Fourche while most people were still in bed – to protect livestock from predators that prey on the domestic animals.
Sebade is a wildlife damage specialist with the department, and his job is to help protect ranchers’ and landowners’ property from wildlife.
The territory that he is responsible for is massive – Butte, Lawrence, western Pennington and eastern Meade counties – and his duties are as varied as the landscape.
So what does he do on an average day?
“It depends on the day,” he said. “Trapping, big game depredation, protection of livestock, there really is no average day.”
The day before, he was placing feed in between elk bedding grounds and a rancher’s hay, a technique called short stopping. That day, he was checking snares set for coyotes. Driving in the vast fields of ranchers’ land he kept an eye out for places in the fence that coyotes could crawl under. When he found a spot with fresh coyote tracks he set a snare to await the animal’s return. Later, on a butte overlooking the ranchland, he broke out his rifle and predator call. This time nothing responded to the calls.
“Right now it is more maintenance for coyote and predators,” Sebade said. “But it is getting busier dealing with wildlife depredation. (The deer and elk are) finding the haystacks.”
Sebade, like the 26 other wildlife damage specialists employed by the department, worked closely with 1,996 landowners in 2014 to protect their livestock and the feed for them.
“If landowners can’t rely on the Game and Fish to help them out, they’re not likely to be receptive to a hunter when he knocks on their door looking for a place to hunt,” said Keith Fisk, the wildlife damage control program administrator.
And since the state is approximately 80 percent privately owned, hunters are largely dependent on landowners for hunting access.
Therefore, the department requires the landowners allow free and reasonable public access in exchange for assistance with the wildlife damage portion.
Landowners are given fencing and panels to keep deer and elk from haystacks. Netting can be placed over the hay to keep the turkeys from destroying bales. Shortstopping is used.
Wildlife damage specialists also deal with geese feeding in soy bean fields in eastern South Dakota and prairie dogs throughout the state, all on a $2.3 million budget.
Deer can consume up to seven pounds of feed a day. Losses can add up quickly.
During the spring and summer the majority of his attention turns to predator control. Sheep are lambing and cattle are calving. The loss of a calf to a coyote could lead to a $1,500-$1,600 loss in the fall when sale time rolls around. Lose a lamb and that results in up to $250 less at sale time.
“Where you have sheep you’ll always have coyotes,” he said.
Federal research has shown that coyotes can sustain about a 70 percent population reduction annually for several years while still maintaining overall population size.
In 2014, nearly 850 coyotes were killed in Harding County alone by the department. This number does not include efforts from the ranchers, trappers or predator callers nor the effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture with its airplane-mounted shooters who have killed more than 100 coyotes a day.
“Chasing the plane and spotting coyotes for them. That is still my most effective way,” Sebade said.
The vastness of Sebade’s territory ends up being his greatest challenge. He covers 200 miles a day at times, usually by himself.
Sebade said he enjoys being outside every day and working with the people who live in the area.
“The ranchers who I work with, for the most part, are absolutely wonderful people,” he said. “They just need a little help controlling predators that are eating their livestock.”
Some, he said, feel bad when they call him for assistance.
“They think I’m too busy or that their problem isn’t severe enough,” he said. “But I don’t respond if I don’t get a call.”
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