Friday, December 19, 2014
DNR, partners working on 4-year plan to boost pheasant numbers
Citizen input from the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Summit soon will be converted into a four-year action plan to increase and enhance grassland habitat on public and private lands.
Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said agency staff and partner organizations are analyzing dozens of recommendations from the Dec. 13 summit in Marshall.
This first summit brought together Gov. Mark Dayton and 300-plus hunters, farmers and conservation experts, including those from Pheasants Forever. Together, they focused on pheasant habitat, pheasant biology and they spent much of the day identifying potential solutions to the plight of a bird whose numbers are declining at a significant rate.
“Citizens talked. We listened. The next step is to convert words into actions,” Landwehr said.
Landwehr said citizen input will be used to develop a summary of the Pheasant Summit recomendations that will be shared with the public in mid-January.
“The focus will be about increasing bird numbers not government regulations,” Landwehr said. “Realistically, that means zeroing in on the interests and needs of private landowners as they own 95 percent of the property in the pheasant range.”
Landwehr said the action plan to be completed in 2015 will include recommendations for increasing the quality and quantity of public grasslands but “the inescapable truth is what happens on private farmland is what drives pheasant numbers because of the vastly higher proportion of acres in private ownership.”
The summit was emceed by Minnesota conservationist Ron Schara, who termed the pheasant the proverbial canary in a coal mine.
“As pheasant numbers go, so go our bobolinks, butterflies, pollinators and more,” he said.
Both Schara and Dayton urged the group to focus on strategies that will increase pheasant numbers, improve habitat, and make sure future generations have the opportunity to enjoy one of the state’s most popular game birds.
“I was pleased we could have a candid conversation about habitat loss and its impact on our pheasant population,” said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “The summit produced a good variety of strategies to consider as we work to improve the future for pheasants in Minnesota.”
Minnesota’s current pheasant population estimate is down 71 percent from the long-term average. Minnesota hunters harvested more than one million pheasants annually from 1931 to 1964; the 2014 harvest is projected to be about one-fourth of that.
Said Landwehr: “That’s what happens when only two percent of the state’s original 18 million acres of prairie remain and 490,000 acres of grassland have disappeared since 2007 through expiring contracts in the Conservation Reserve Program.”
Landwehr said it will take a couple of weeks to “accurately sort out the input of such a large group” and that he is buoyed by the depth and breadth of innovative ideas.
“Finding strategies that work for both land and people is key,” said John Jaschke, executive director of the Board of Water and Soil Resources. “Projects and practices to achieve clean water or soil improvement can help the pheasant population. Site selection and design can be adjusted to build habitat into watershed protection projects. Grassland buffers are one such example of a multi-benefit practice that was highlighted at the summit.”
Convened by Dayton, the Pheasant Summit was attended by citizens, conservation groups and many state, local and federal entities that deliver habitat conservation programs, including the DNR, Board of Water and Soil Resources, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource and Conservation Service and more.