Pheasant population remains at 10-year average despite drop in index

September 15, 2008

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Despite a cool, wet spring that caused a 24-percent drop in Minnesota’s pheasant index, the estimated number of pheasants in Minnesota remains at its 10-year average.
“The southwest likely will provide the best opportunities for pheasant hunters,” said Kurt Haroldson,

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife research biologist. “Minnesota’s west central, south central and east central regions also are likely to provide good pheasant harvest opportunities.”

The annual August roadside count of wildlife showed a pheasant index of 81 birds per 100 miles driven.

The index exceeded 100 birds in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The 2007 index of 106 birds resulted in a harvest of 655,000 roosters, the highest pheasant harvest since 1964.

“Moderate winter weather throughout much of Minnesota’s pheasant range increased hen counts above the 10-year average,” Haroldson said. “But cool, wet weather from April to June resulted in only an average number of broods and fewer chicks per brood.”

This fall’s pheasant population could be higher than the 10-year average if nesting efforts were delayed and hens remained on nests – or were caring for young broods – during the first two weeks of August.

That’s when DNR wildlife managers and conservation officers drove designated routes and counted animals for the survey.

“If that’s the case, this year’s survey may have undercounted pheasants,” Haroldson said. “If not, hunters can expect an average-sized pheasant population but with relatively more adults and fewer juveniles.”

The gray partridge index was similar to last year, but 55 percent below the 10-year average.

Mourning dove indices also declined from 2007, the 10-year average, and the long-term average.

Cottontail rabbit and jackrabbit indices were similar to last year, but jackrabbit indices are well below 10-year and long-term averages.

The most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season.

Protected grasslands account for about 6 percent of the state’s pheasant range. Farmland retirement programs make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.

“Hunters, landowners, wildlife watchers and others interested in maintaining and enhancing habitat need to support federal and state programs that provide economic incentives for habitat,” Haroldson said. “Without those programs Minnesota would see a drastic decline in pheasant and other farmland wildlife populations. Another practice that would be a great help to farmland wildlife would be to delay mowing of roadsides until after Aug. 1.”

The August roadside survey began in the late 1940s and was standardized in 1955.

DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland regions of Minnesota conduct the survey annually during the first two weeks in August.

This year’s survey consisted of 171 routes, each 25 miles long, with 152 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range.

Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see.
The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long term trends in populations of ring necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white tailed jackrabbits and selected other wildlife species.

The 2008 August Roadside Report and pheasant hunting prospects map can be viewed and downloaded from http://mndnr.gov/roadsidesurvey.

Minnesota’s pheasant season begins Oct. 11 and runs through Jan. 4, 2009.

The daily bag limit is two roosters, with three roosters allowed from Dec. 1 to Jan. 4.

The possession limit is six, with nine allowed from Dec. 1 to Jan. 4. Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset.

Small game hunting opened Saturday
From the DNR

Grouse, rabbit, squirrel and partridge seasons opened Saturday, Sept. 13, offering Minnesotans the chance to discover the state’s vast amounts of land open to public hunting, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Small game season is a forgotten pleasure,” said Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife section chief. “It doesn’t take a large investment of time and money or much hunting expertise to get out and find a few squirrels and rabbits.”

Simon noted many small game populations are relatively strong year-in, year-out.

“Minnesota is consistently one of the top ruffed-grouse harvest states in the nation. What better place to introduce someone new to this type of hunting?” asked Simon.

Basic requirements include a blaze orange-colored article of clothing above the waist; a small caliber rifle or shotgun and a valid hunting license and firearms safety training.

Complete details about seasons, requirements and bag limits are listed on pages 42-47 of the 2008 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.

“Finding a place to hunt is the most difficult obstacle for many people,” Simon said. “But many people don’t know that Minnesota offers hunting in its 1.2-million-acre Wildlife Management Area (WMA) system as well as state, county and national forests.”

The WMA system, one of the largest and most-developed in the United States, contains 1,380 public wildlife areas across Minnesota, with habitat ranging from prairies and wetlands to forests and swamps.

State forests offer an additional four million acres in 58 designated areas.

Details about WMAs and state forests are available online at http://mndnr.gov/destinations.

Anglers needed to reel in AEDs and bring Project Lifesaver to Wright County

Sign up now to compete in Buffalo Hospital Foundation’s second annual fishing tournament, Saturday, Sept. 20, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Buffalo Lake. To register, call (763) 684-6800.

The fishing tournament will raise funds to support Project Lifesaver and Heart Safe Communities, two initiatives designed to save lives in Wright County.

Buffalo Hospital Foundation will use funds raised from the fishing tournament to help launch Project Lifesaver in Wright County.

Project Lifesaver uses state-of-the-art technology to track lost children and adults dealing with Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and related disorders.

Participants wear a wrist band with a radio transmitter.

If that person ever goes missing, emergency agencies use a mobile tracking system to locate them.

The average recovery time is less than 30 minutes.

When Keith Kennedy, an adult with Autism, walked away from a Wisconsin camp this past June, it took hundreds of searchers one week to find him.

Currently, five Minnesota counties and the city of New Brighton, use Project Lifesaver.

Heart Safe Communities provides Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) and the training needed for Wright County’s first responders.

The most effective treatment for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is an electric shock to the heart, called defibrillation.

This shock is administered by an AED and police officers are typically the first to arrive at the scene.
AEDs already placed through the county have been credited for saving more than a dozen lives.

• Tournament details

Registration and boat checks for the fishing tournament begin at 6:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 20. The tournament runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Entry fee is $100 per two-person team. Depth finders and live bait are permitted.

Winners are determined by largest fish in total weight in pounds and ounces for each category (walleye, bass and northern).

Winners will receive a trophy and cash: 1st place – $350; 2nd place – $100; 3rd place – $50.

To register, call Buffalo Hospital Foundation at (763) 684-6800.

Registrations will be accepted up to the day of the tournament.

• Sponsorship opportunities, donations

Consider becoming a major sponsor, registering a fishing team, donating a cash gift or silent auction item. Your support will help save lives in Wright County.

For $50, you can sponsor a large bobber with your name or organization on it to line a park walkway.

Call (763) 684-6800 for more information.

Watch for island closings caused by Newcastle disease
From the DNR

Don’t be too surprised if you see “closed” signs on certain islands and lake access points within five Minnesota lakes.

Birds from these lakes were confirmed to have virulent Newcastle disease, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The virus, which already has killed more than 1,200 double-crested cormorants this summer in Minnesota, has been confirmed at Minnesota Lake, Pigeon Lake, Lake of the Woods, Marsh Lake and Lake Kabetogama. DNR officials still are waiting for results from Mille Lacs Lake.

Counties affected or potentially affected by the closed areas include Meeker, Faribault, Mille Lacs, Cass, St. Louis (in the Voyageurs National Park area), Lake of the Woods and Lac Qui Parle. Closed areas should be signed by the end of the week.

The disease can be transmitted via contaminated clothing and equipment, and infected birds can spread the virus through direct contact as well as through their feces and excretions.

Newcastle disease is not a major concern for humans, although it may cause a mild conjunctivitis and influenza-like symptoms.

Clinical signs of Newcastle disease in avian species are frequently neurological, such as droopy heads and paralyzed wings and legs. Nestlings and juveniles birds are most commonly affected.

Mortality rates in wild species can vary greatly, with double-crested cormorants most commonly affected.

No cases of Newcastle disease outbreaks in wild species were reported until 1990 in the United States or Canada.

In 1992, more than 35,000 double-crested cormorants died from the virus across the Great Lakes, Upper Midwest and Canada. Sporadic outbreaks in cormorants have been reported since 1990 in California, Utah, Nevada and Oregon.

DNR wildlife staff is working with the National Wildlife Health Center, the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre to manage the outbreak by reducing possible impacts to other wild birds and prevent spillover of the disease into domestic poultry.

Fall wild turkey leftover licenses available starting today (Monday)
From the DNR

Turkey hunters who were unsuccessful in this year’s lottery for the fall hunting season may apply for 2,243 surplus permits starting at noon Monday, Sept. 15.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) makes surplus permits available at all Electronic Licensing System (ELS) outlets and online at www.dnr.state.mnu.us.

The Web site also contains information on surplus licenses availability and the status of lottery applications. The fall turkey hunt consists of two five-day seasons: Oct. 15-19 and Oct. 22-26.

Hunters who did not enter the lottery will be able to purchase any remaining surplus licenses beginning noon Monday, Sept. 22.

Bill Penning, DNR farmland coordinator, said because hunting access in many zones is limited, hunters should obtain landowner permission before getting a leftover permit.

He added that a hunter who obtains a surplus permit does not lose any existing preference for future lottery drawings.

Unsuccessful turkey hunting party applicants must apply individually to purchase a license.

Pheasant hunting forecast
From Pheasants Forever

Save for Iowa, where devastating weather negatively impacted the pheasant population, the remainder of the core pheasant powerhouses – the Dakotas, Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska – will provide great opportunities for you to slide roosters into your vest this fall.

The good news is easy to digest: South Dakota has its highest pheasant numbers in 45 years with over 2 million roosters harvested there last year; Kansas had its highest harvest since 1987 and numbers this year are expected to be higher; Minnesota had its highest harvest since 1964 in 2007 and looks to again have a strong pheasant population.

The bad news doesn’t go down so easy. Unfortunately, because of massive habitat losses, mostly from recently expired Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, the sun may be setting on “the modern good ol’ days” of pheasant hunting.

Over 800,000 CRP acres are already gone from the Dakotas, and millions more acres are set to expire across the pheasant range in the coming years.

Given today’s current agricultural climate, many expiring acres are expected to be lost to row crop conversion.

Fortunately, CRP was reauthorized by the 2008 federal Farm Bill, and Pheasants Forever will continue working to establish a dynamic and economically competitive CRP going forward.

The new continuous, state-specific CRP program - State Acres For wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) - and the early success of that program in states like South Dakota and Minnesota, indicates landowner support for CRP remains strong.

Tree seedlings available from state forest nurseries
From the DNR

A wide variety of tree and shrub seedlings are available for purchase from state forest nurseries, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“There are seedlings that work well for wildlife food and shelter, as well as for timber, shelterbelts and water conservation,” said Steve Vongroven, a DNR nursery supervisor.

Several new packet combinations are being offered for the 2009 planting season.

New this year is a Pheasant Winter Cover Packet, a Grouse Packet, a Wild Turkey Packet and an Evergreen Packet.

The nurseries also have a wide variety of conifer and hardwood seedlings available.

The tree seedling order form and a list of available seedlings can be found on the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us/foresty/nurseries/index.hmtl.

People can also call the nursery order office at 1-800-657-3767 or stop in at a local DNR Forestry office.

A minimum order of 500 seedlings is required. The price varies from $90 per 500 trees to $290 per 500 trees, depending on the species ordered.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: It appears to be that time of year for tree diseases to surface. Is there anything homeowners can do to protect their trees from diseases and possible mortality, regardless of tree species?

A: There are a number of things that homeowners can do on their own to help keep their trees healthy.

Since many areas of the state are experiencing some type of drought conditions, a good place to start is watering your trees.

The lack of water predisposes trees to insects and pathogens that can only successfully attack drought-stressed trees. So, wherever possible, homeowners should give their trees about one inch of water each week.

In addition to watering, apply organic mulch two- to three-inches deep and spread it out three- to eight-feet from the trunk. This will guard against lawn mower injury and keep the roots moist.

Homeowners should also avoid using weed and feed fertilizer products that contain herbicide.

While the product makes lawns look good, it does kill tree roots. Picking up and properly disposing of fallen leaves and tree branches can also help prevent the spread of tree diseases now and next spring.

For more information, go to DNR’s Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us/treecare/index.html.