South Dakota man named Wildlife Damage Specialist of the Year
for S.D. Game, Fish and Parks
Scott Phillips was only 6 when he trapped his first predator. “The idea of catching wild animals intrigued me so I began reading books on trapping,” explains the 52-year-old of how trapping snared him at a young age.
Today, more than four decades after trapping that first fox, Phillips says he continues to enjoy the challenge of trapping – the hobby that became his career. “There is just something about being able to out-lick an animal and make them do what you need them to do so you can catch them,” says Phillips, who is the Wildlife Damage Specialist for South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks (GF&P) in Harding and northern Butte Counties.
Phillips is one of 27 GF&P Wildlife Damage Specialists (a.k.a. state trappers), who work with South Dakota livestock producers to reduce and alleviate all types of wildlife damage, whether it is coyotes depredating sheep and cattle, Canada geese eating soybeans or elk damaging stored-feeds, like hay.
In 2014, Phillips was recognized by his peers with the Wildlife Damage Specialist of the Year Award for his talent as a trapper and ability to build strong working relationships with livestock producers and other private landowners. “Scott is very dedicated to the job. He has repeatedly shown us that if a producer contacts him with a problem, he will be there to solve it,” says Mike Kintigh, S.D. GF&P Regional Supervisor for Region 1, which includes all counties in western South Dakota.
This year alone, Phillips has stopped 587 coyotes dead in their tracks. “I want to make sure that everyone understands, that alleviating predators is a collective effort between, Wildlife Services’ crew of pilots and gunners as well as our three county pilots and myself,” Phillips says.
According to Phillips, several factors play an important role in being able to effectively trap predators. He calls upon years of experience and study of wildlife behavior and utilizes a variety of humane trapping tools including: traps and snares, M-44s, aerial scouting and gunners, animal calls and most importantly, according to Phillips – persistence.
“Persistence is a big thing. You have to be driven to stick with it until the problem predator is alleviated,” Phillips says. “There are times when it takes a while to truly figure out what is going on, but once you figure things out and catch the predator, persistence pays off.”
He shares a recent example of a particularly elusive coyote killing sheep on one Harding County ranch.
“The rancher called me because he was getting killed on. After reviewing the situation, I brought in a plane and removed several coyotes by air, through calling and snares. The killing stopped for about a week. Then I received a call from the same rancher. The killing had started up again,” Phillips explains.
The scenario repeated itself a few times until finally, the plane spotted a lone coyote running to hide under a rock ledge. “I figured that must be the problem coyote and every time we showed up, he would go there and hide. So I crawled up under the rock ledge and shot the coyote. After that the killing stopped for good,” Phillips says.
All in all, that coyote and his partner, who was shot the same day, killed 60 lambs. “Coyotes aren’t dumb. There are more coyotes today than ever before. They are our number one predator,” Phillips says.
And each predator kill is costly, explains Clark Blake, a fourth-generation Harding County rancher. “Predators can do a significant amount of monetary damage to our operations,” says Blake, who raises sheep and cattle and is president of the local Predator Control District. “Our profit margins in agriculture are not that good, so if you end up sacrificing a significant percentage of your lamb or calf crop to coyotes, it soon becomes unprofitable for you to do business.”
With lambs valued at $200 a head and calves selling at $1,500, Phillips recognizes protecting producers’ livestock as his number one priority. “Kill complaints come first. This is their livelihood at stake,” he says.
Keith Fisk echoes Phillip’s comments. As the Wildlife Damage Program Administrator for S.D. GF&P, Fisk says because approximately 80 percent of all land in South Dakota is privately owned, landowners are GF&P’s number one partner in wildlife management.
“Most of South Dakota’s wildlife is raised on private property and in order to have abundant wildlife populations and places for sportsmen and women to hunt it’s important for GFP to cooperatively work with producers and landowners to address wildlife damage,” Fisk says. “We value these relationships and know our Wildlife Damage Specialists are on the front line to ensure strong relationships with our landowners by protecting their livestock and crops from wildlife.”
More about Scott Phillips
Prior to becoming a Wildlife Damage Specialist for S.D. GF&P in 2011, Phillips spent most of his life honing his trapping skills. Throughout elementary and high school, trapping was his way of earning spending money. After high school, he trained as a firefighter because he knew the schedule would allow him plenty of free time to trap. In 1996 he left firefighting, when he had the opportunity to work fulltime as a trapper. He’s been controlling predators ever since.
Along with trapping, Phillips enjoys working with the people he serves. “Like me, South Dakota producers work hard and love what they do. To do what we do, and work in the elements like we do, you gotta love your work.”
To learn more about South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, visit http://www.gfp.sd.gov.