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Pheasant roadside count declines for 2009

September 14, 2009

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Minnesota pheasant hunters, who in recent years have experienced some of the best hunting since the mid-1950s and early 1960s, are expected to harvest fewer birds this autumn.

That according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR), whose wildlife staff report the state’s pheasant index is down 27 percent from last year and 27 percent below the 10-year average. The index had been above average for the past four years.

Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife section chief, said three factors influenced this year’s bird numbers.

First, last winter’s weather was moderately severe throughout much of the pheasant range for the first time since 2001.

This resulted in hen counts 22 percent below the 10-year average.

Second, 72,000 acres of private land was removed from the Conservation Reserve Program, thereby reducing nesting opportunities.

And third, a period of cool and wet weather at the normal peak of pheasant hatch appeared to reduce early brood survival.

“As a result, a decrease in the range-wide pheasant index is not surprising. South Dakota experienced a similar decline,” said Simon.

Pheasant hunters should find birds in about the same abundance as 2004, when 420,000 roosters were harvested.

This compares with harvests that have exceeded 500,000 roosters five of the past six years.

The half-million bird harvests correspond with a string of mild winters and high CRP enrollment.

“Habitat is what drives populations and harvest rates,” said Simon, noting that in 1958 – the height of the Soil Bank conservation days – the pheasant harvest peaked at 1.6 million.

During 1965-86, the years between Soil Bank and CRP, harvest averaged only 270,000 birds.

Kurt Haroldson, DNR wildlife biologist and chief author of this year’s pheasant survey report, said best opportunities for harvesting pheasants will likely be in the southwest, where observers reported 116 birds per 100 miles of survey driven.

Good harvest opportunities might also be found in the west-central, central and south-central regions, where observers reported 65, 59, and 53 birds per 100 miles driven, respectively.

This year’s statewide pheasant index was 59 birds per 100 miles driven.

Simon said 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.

The effectiveness of farmland conservation programs remains under threat due to continued high land rental rates and competing economic opportunities.

This year’s 72,000-acre loss of CRP in Minnesota’s pheasant range followed a 38,000-acre loss last year.

Another 63,000 acres of CRP contracts are scheduled to expire in Minnesota Wednesday, Sept. 30.

Simon said if Minnesota is to avoid a drastic decline in pheasant and other farmland wildlife populations, hunters, landowners, wildlife watchers and conservationists must make the case for farm conservation programs.

Although CRP was reauthorized in the current farm bill, its success will depend on the rules for implementation.

Conservation organizations such as Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited and many others can help hunters and wildlife enthusiasts stay informed of the latest developments.

The DNR is a major partner in the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership to expand the habitat base through marketing of farm bill conservation programs in partnership with Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, Pheasants Forever, and county Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

In addition, the DNR is continuing a focused habitat effort to develop large grasslandwetland complexes through a “Working Lands Initiative” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners.

New funding from the constitutionally dedicated Outdoor Heritage Fund is expected to accelerate acquisition of Wildlife Management Areas and Waterfowl Production Areas beginning in 2010.

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

DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in Minnesota’s farmland region conduct the survey during the first two weeks in August.

This year’s survey consisted of 170 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 gray partridge index was similar to last year, but 71 percent below the 10-year average.

Cottontail rabbit indices also declined about 40 percent from 2008, the 10-year average and the long-term average.

Jackrabbit indices were similar to last year, but 86 percent below the long-term average.

In contrast, the mourning dove index was up 26 percent from last year.

The 2009 August Roadside Report and pheasant hunting prospects map can be viewed and downloaded from www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/pheasant/index.html.

Minnesota’s pheasant season is Oct. 10 – Jan. 3.

The daily bag limit is two roosters (three roosters from Dec. 1 – Jan. 3), with a possession limit of six (nine from Dec. 1 – Jan. 3).

Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset.

Winsted Ducks Unlimted banquet will be Tuesday

Quack quack it’s back.

The 26th annual Winsted Ducks Unlimited Chapter Banquet will be Tuesday, Sept. 15 at the Blue Note in Winsted.

The cost is $25 for a single, and additional $10 for a guest or spouse.

Previous years ticket cost was $45 for a single.

It all kicks off at 6 p.m. with live and silent auctions, raffles, games, and door prizes.

Your ticket includes a Ducks Unlimited membership, dinner, and the opportunity to participate in the auction, silent auction, and numerous drawings.

For tickets or more information, contact Dale Gatz at (320) 485-2474.

Firearms sight-in day at Delano

Persons who are not members of the Delano Sportsmens Club will be allowed to use the range to sight in their firearms for the upcoming hunting season. This will be the only opportunity this fall for non-members to use the range. The date is Saturday, Oct. 17, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The range is located at 4505 County Road 50 SE.

The fee is $15 per gun. Targets will be provided.

All guns must be cased and unloaded, and magazines empty.

No alcohol or persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be permitted on site.

Bring your own hearing and eye protection.

Members of the club will be on hand to assist.

Visit the web site www.delanosportsmensclub.com for directions and more information.

Mary’s Wish pheasant hunt Sept. 26

The first ever Mary’s Wish Pheasant Hunt will take place Saturday, Sept. 26 at the Major Avenue Hunt Clun in Glencoe.

The hunt will consist of teams of three to six hunters with a minimum cost of $400 per team, or $100 per hunter.

All the proceeds go to benefit Mary’s Wish.

On-site check-in begins at 8:30 a.m., with orientation to start at 9 a.m.

The day will consist of two hours on the field with 16 birds – feel free to bring your hunting dogs.

There will also be one round of clay pigions (25 pigeons),a nd a luncheon.

If you participate, you will need to provide your own gun and ammunition.

For additional information, go to www.majoravehunt.com.

If you are interested in sponsoring the event, call (612) 328-4292.

New grant program could trip hundreds of conservation projects
From the DNR

With more than $3.7 million in funds available, a new grant program in Minnesota could trigger hundreds of conservation projects throughout the state, according to Leslie Tannahill, grant program manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“This new matching grant program has tremendous potential to kick-start numerous projects that have been languishing due to challenging economic conditions,” Tannahill said. “We’re convinced it is going to be extremely popular.”

Dubbed the Conservation Partners Legacy (CPL) Grant Program, it is funded as a direct result of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendment passed by Minnesota voters during the November 2008 election.

The amendment increased the sales tax by three-eighths of one percent; 33 percent of the increase is to be used to fund fish and wildlife habitat projects.

Government entities and non-profit organizations at the local, state and federal level are eligible to apply.

A 10 percent match in non-state funds or in-kind services is required.

The minimum award is $5,000 with the maximum capped at $400,000. A total of $3,760,000 is available.

Tannahill said projects must restore, protect or enhance prairies, wetlands, forests, or habitat for fish or wildlife in Minnesota.

The CPL grant program was recommended to the Legislature by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, a 12-member body of 10 citizens and two legislators charged with recommending which project proposals should be funded from the estimated $90 million expected to be raised the first year.

“We are already hearing from groups that are anxious to apply,” Tannahill noted. “We know there are numerous organizations and government entities out there that have identified important, on-the-ground projects that they’ve been itching to tackle. Now they have the opportunity they’ve been waiting for.”

Complete details of the program can be found on the Request for Proposal document now posted on the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us/grants/habitat/lessard-sams.html.

Applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Blaze orange required for most small game hunting
From the DNR

Blaze orange is required for most small game hunting, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Blaze orange is the most easily seen and recognized color against a natural background, according to Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR Enforcement Division Education Program coordinator.

“From the standpoint of hunter safety, the wearing of this high-visibility clothing while small game hunting in heavy cover, such as for grouse and pheasant, is a great communications tool,” Hammer said.

“Blaze orange clothing is a tremendous aid in helping hunters maintain visual contact with one another, particularly when moving through dense cover or woods,” Hammer said. “Any hunter who has ever identified someone strictly by seeing an orange patch knows its value in keeping track of other hunters in the field.”

Minnesota’s small game season gets underway Saturday, Sept. 19.

Special youth archery hunt set for Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area
From the DNR

Three young bow hunters from Litchfield, Faribault and Morristown have been selected in a lottery to participate in the first Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area (SRA) archery deer hunt this fall sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The hunt will take place Oct. 15 – 18 on state-owned land within the new SRA near Litchfield.

While the Greenleaf Lake SRA is not yet open to the public, DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten has approved the special youth hunt.

Each youth will be accompanied by an adult mentor.

Mike Kurre, DNR youth mentoring coordinator, noted that today’s youth are growing up in a world with numerous distractions that take away from the time they spend on nature-based outdoor recreation.

Providing more quality, nature-based outdoor recreation opportunities for youth is a high priority for the DNR and other organizations.

“The Greenleaf hunt is just one example of an effort to bond a parent or guardian to a youngster by interacting with the sights, sounds and skills needed to appreciate all that the outdoors has to offer,” Kurre said. “Once they get a taste of that, they’ll hopefully want to continue to look for other outdoor adventures as they get older.”

Fishing licesne: Don’t leave home without it
From the DNR

The late actor Karl Malden was the pitch man for American Express credit cards and traveler’s checks during the 1970s, urging Americans: “Don’t leave home without it.”

Now a conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is urging Minnesota anglers to do the same thing with their fishing license: Don’t leave home without it.

Conservation Officer Marty Stage of Ely said the most common fishing violation is an angler not having a fishing license in possession.

Minnesota statute states anglers age 16 or older must have the appropriate license with them when fishing.

Stage shared the story of a recent encounter he had with an angler while patrolling the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

“Some people claim that since officers have computers, they don’t need to have a license in possession,” Stage said. “But it can take conservation officers a lot of extra time to track down information on someone, especially a nonresident.
“Also, computers don’t work in the wilderness, and neither do phones,” Stage noted. “Anyway, the law is pretty clear. A person must have a fishing license with them while fishing. It’s best not to leave home without it.”

Maj. Roger Tietz, operations support manager for the DNR’s Division of Enforcement, agreed. “Well, I have one, but I just forgot to bring it with me” is an excuse that conservation officers wish they’d hear less often,” said Tietz, noting it’s an excuse that can be easily avoided.

The state’s Electronic Licensing System issues licenses and stamps through 1,800 license agents statewide.

Instant licenses and stamps are also available online at or by telephone at 888-665-4236.

An additional $3.50 convenience fee is added for sales via the Web site or phone.

“The purchaser is licensed immediately, which is a tremendous feature,” Tietz said. “Then you’re on your way to your fishing spot.”

Question of the Week
From the DNR

Q: Did heavy August rainfalls increase lake levels in drought-stricken areas of Minnesota?

A: Portions of east-central Minnesota remain in moderate to severe drought as we enter autumn.

Precipitation totals since early summer of 2008 have fallen short of average by more than 10 inches in this region.

As the result of the dry weather, water levels in east-central Minnesota lakes are well below historical averages.

Thankfully, August 2009 brought an abundance of rainfall to central and east-central Minnesota.

August rainfall totals exceeded average by two to five inches across some of Minnesota’s driest landscapes.

The wet weather halted the downward trend in lake levels, but in many cases did not lead to a significant water level rebound.

In the aftermath of drought, it can take months or years of above-average precipitation to return water levels on some lakes to a point within their typical range of ups and downs.

Lakes without river inflow, typically having small watershed areas compared to their size, are often slow to respond to climatic conditions.

These lakes interact closely with ground water, and the level of the lake reflects the condition of the interconnected aquifer or aquifers.