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You remember pheasants part II

March 31, 2012
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

Last week, I suggested that perhaps I would write the next column on the plight of our pheasants going into more detail as to that situation. I checked the files and saw that I had written on the plight of our pheasant population in October, 2010 and called it "You Remember Pheasants." So I named this Part II and I won't go into as much detail as I had expected because everything that I said then is true today only worse with one exception. That exception being the "almost" winter we experienced this season!

In 2010, I told you that our pheasant population was down again that year and that you couldn't get much farther down without just disappearing completely. Another positive that I could say would be that they didn't disappear completely.

I wrote about the calls and conversations from folks who advocate closing the season or stocking birds in an effort to restore the population. Those have continued and even intensified.

Let's look at these two options being championed by well-meaning people:

Closing the season from the outside looks like it might be a logical approach. If you don't hunt them, then there will be more birds right? Wrong. I wish it was that easy. In Iowa, we don't hunt the hens, just the roosters. And with one rooster being capable of mating with as many as 50 hens that is not the problem. Add to things that if we didn't harvest roosters, even more hens would perish, being unable to out compete the roosters for the safest available cover during winter.

Releasing birds into the wild sounds good at first, too. Until you take the time to look at study after study where stocking of pen raised pheasants was overwhelmingly shown to have no benefit in increasing wild bird numbers. Game farm pheasants come from generations after generations of captive, pen raised stock. Now, stocking of wild birds into an area can have benefit, but where are you going to find anywhere in Iowa or beyond where the wild bird population is in any kind of shape to trap birds? The pheasant plight is statewide and beyond.

So what are we to do? Here comes one of my favorite sayings - It's the weather not the Winchester that is causing the decrease in numbers. This year, we experienced a winter of record high temperatures and record low snow accumulations. Everyone should have their fingers crossed for a spring with "normal" rainfall. Bad winters (thirty-one inches of snowfall or more) translate into poor survival. Wet springs (spring rainfall of 8 inches or more) equal slim to almost no nesting success. Poor survival coupled with slim nesting success adds up to you guessed it zero to negative population growth.

I have not given up, but I will admit that in the last couple of years I have felt like I was maybe seeing the wild population reach such drastically low numbers that perhaps they couldn't rebound. The past five years have all been above thirty-one inches of snowfall and four of those same five years have had rainfall over the 8 inches. I am not a gambler but I know the odds of two consecutive years of back to back wonderful winter/spring combinations is slim. Even more is pretty much a given not to happen!

And I don't have enough words allotted to me in this column to tackle the subject of habitat here. Given the present commodity and land prices, we all have watched fence lines, idle field corners, and old farm groves (already in such short supply) continue to disappear.

I am told that the weather patterns will eventually cycle into drier winters and summers. The areas of the state with adequate nesting and winter cover habitat will see populations rebound. But realistically, with the ever-decreasing amount of habitat in this area, we will never see pheasants in the numbers that some folks recall.

Last week I talked about the bill being considered by some of our legislators to saddle the DNR with another study exploring a program releasing birds. Let's save our money and establish habitat.

Oh, and you know what else I found out recently? There is a movement down there at that gold domed building in Des Moines to study selling DNR public habitat areas. That reminds me of another favorite saying, "One step forward and two steps back," or maybe in this case it is more fitting to say, "No steps forward and three back."



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