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Minnesota’s pheasant index falls 64 percent from 2010

September 12, 2011

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

A severe winter followed by a wet spring contributed to a significant decline in Minnesota’s pheasant counts.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the pheasant population index declined 64 percent from 2010 and is 71 percent below the 10-year average.

Contributing factors include:

• A second consecutive severe winter, resulting in hen counts 72 percent below the 10-year average.

• Cold, wet weather during the April through June nesting period, resulting in brood counts 75 percent below the 10-year average.

• Loss of nearly 120,000 acres of grass habitat enrolled in farm programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) since 2007.

Severe winters combined with cold, wet springs are doubly hard on pheasant populations.

That’s because fewer hens survive the winter and those that do are less successful in producing broods.

Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 250,000 roosters this fall, the lowest harvest since 1997.

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

The 500,000 bird harvests correspond with a string of mild winters and high CRP enrollment.

“We expect hunters to harvest a similar number of birds in 2011 as they did in 2001, which was another year with a severe winter followed by a cold, wet spring” said Kurt Haroldson, a wildlife biologist for the DNR’s Farmland Wildlife Population and Research Group in Madelia.

Haroldson noted survey results indicated an unusually low ratio of hens to roosters.

This suggests hen mortality was high or hens were nesting or caring for young broods during the survey.

If the late nesting effort was greater than normal, the 2011 pheasant population and the fall harvest may be higher than forecast.

Pheasant populations can rebound quickly given good habitat, mild winter weather and favorable spring nesting conditions.

Minnesota is not the only state to see pheasant index declines.

Wildlife officials in South Dakota reported a 46 percent population index decline.

North Dakota’s spring population survey showed a decline, too.

The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR’s annual roadside wildlife survey.

The survey summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours during the first half of August throughout the farmland region of Minnesota.

The highest pheasant counts were in the east central region, where observers reported 51 birds per 100 miles of survey driven.

Hunters will find fair harvest opportunities in pockets of south central and southwest Minnesota, but harvest opportunities in most of Minnesota’s pheasant range are rated poor to very poor.

This year’s statewide pheasant index was 23 birds per 100 miles driven, the lowest index since 1986.

The pheasant index in southwest Minnesota, typically the state’s best pheasant range, fell 82 percent from last year to 19 birds per 100 miles driven.

Haroldson said the most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season.
Protected grasslands account for about six percent of the state’s pheasant range.

Farmland retirement programs such as CRP, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Reinvest in Minnesota and Wetlands Reserve Program make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.

High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs.

During the next three years, contracts for 550,000 acres of CRP lands are scheduled to expire.

If not re-enrolled, this would reduce CRP acres in Minnesota by 36 percent.

To help offset continued habitat losses caused by reductions in conservation set-aside acreage, DNR has accelerated acquisition of Wildlife Management Areas in the farmland region of Minnesota.

DNR also supports habitat conservation on private lands by working with a variety of partners in the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership and Working Lands Initiative.

Also, nearly 10,000 acres of private property will be open to public hunting through the state’s new Walk-In Access program.

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

DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first half of August.

This year’s survey consisted of 166 routes, each 25 miles long, with 148 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 other select wildlife species.

The gray partridge index was similar to last year but 75 percent below the 10-year average.

The cottontail rabbit index was also below the 10-year and long-term average.

The jackrabbit index was 96 percent below the long-term average.

Finally, the mourning dove index was 26 percent below last year and 29 percent below the 10-year average.

The 2011 August Roadside Report and pheasant hunting prospects map can be viewed and downloaded from http://mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasant.

Crow River annual clean up day Sept. 17

The eighth annual Crow River Clean Up Day will take place Saturday, Sept. 17 in the communities around the watershed.

For more information on the Crow River Clean Up Day, contact Diane Sander at diane.sander@mn.nacdnet.net.

Special mentored youth/women pheasant hunt Oct. 23
From the DNR

If you are a youth, age 12 to 17, or a woman, who has not experienced the rush of the flush as a pheasant explodes from cover, this is for you.

Pheasants Forever has teamed up with the DNR to provide a special mentored pheasant hunt in Minnesota Sunday, Oct. 23.

This is a great opportunity to learn about hunting techniques, skills, safety, and wildlife habitat.

Applicants will be randomly drawn by lottery to participate in the county of your choice.

Applications must be received by Wednesday, Sept. 8.

For additional information, e-mail Michael.Kurre@state.mn.us, or check out the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Hunters reminded not to shoot radio-collared bears
From the DNR

Hunters participating in Minnesota’s bear season are reminded to avoid shooting radio-collared research bears, which are marked with large colorful ear tags or colorful streamers.

Hunters are likely to find collared bears in and near Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area; the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge; the Chippewa National Forest; Camp Ripley; the Cloquet Forestry Station; Voyageurs National Park; and northern St. Louis County between Ely and Tower near the Eagles Nest chain of lakes.

Photos of some collared research bears are available on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website at www.mndnr.gov/bear.

Any hunters who do shoot collared bears should call the DNR Wildlife Research office in Grand Rapids at 218-327-4146 or 218-327-4133.

Asian carp search enters new phase on Mississippi, St. Croix, Minnesota rivers
From the DNR

The search for Asian carp in the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers will continue next week with a new round of environmental DNA (eDNA) testing, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced.

Also, the Minnesota River has been added to this round of testing because of its proximity to the Mississippi River.

The ad hoc Minnesota Asian Carp Task Force, made up of state and federal natural resource agencies and the University of Minnesota, will initiate a new round of sensitive eDNA sampling in four stretches of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers. The testing will be done at 225 locations in those two rivers and 50 locations in the Minnesota River.

The process, which should begin Wednesday, Sept. 14, involves taking a liter of water from each location, filtering it, and analyzing it for the presence of DNA left by two species of invasive Asian carp, silver and bighead.

The testing is part of a multi-prong, long-term effort to determine the presence and distribution of invasive Asian carp in the rivers, and to identify and implement ways to slow their upstream spread.

The DNR recently completed a nine-day search of Asian carp in the St. Croix River using nets and electro-shocking gear, and no invasive carp were caught.

The testing followed positive eDNA tests in June that showed the presence of silver carp DNA about 50 miles upstream from the river’s mouth.

In addition to its own netting and electro-shocking efforts, the DNR hired a commercial fisherman with experience netting Asian carp in Illinois.

After four days of netting, the operator did not catch any carp in what he believed would be the fishes’ preferred backwater habitats in the St. Croix River.

“This is good news because it suggests Asian carp may be in low numbers in the St. Croix River, and perhaps only a few individuals,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “It also suggests we have some time to research and implement barriers that can help slow their spread.”

The next round of eDNA sampling will be done in previously untested sections of all three rivers; in addition, researchers plan to retest sections of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers that were sampled in June.

The June results from the Mississippi River may have been unreliable because the river was near flood stage, researchers say, and they want to see if the St. Croix results come back positive again:

• In the St. Croix River, new testing (30 water samples) will be done above the St. Croix Falls Dam, while 20 samples will be collected below the dam in the area previously tested.

• In the Mississippi River, new testing will be done downstream of Lock and Dam 2 at Hastings (75 samples), and below and above the Coon Rapids Dam (50 samples total). Retesting will be conducted below Lock and Dam 1 in St. Paul (50 samples).

• In the Minnesota River, which was not tested in June, 50 samples will be collected close to its confluence with the Mississippi River.

Results will be available as samples are processed.

The first round of results should be available by mid-October.

All fish, including Asian carp, shed DNA material into the environment through mucus and excrement.

DNA floats on the water surface and accumulates in eddies and backwater areas.

The presence of individual fish species can be detected by collecting water samples in those areas and filtering them in the lab for DNA.

The testing is being coordinated by the DNR and the National Park Service, with assistance from the University of Minnesota and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The same company, eDNA Solutions of Indiana, that conducted the June testing will perform the next round of laboratory tests.

The DNR is continuing to investigate funding, feasibility and development of a diversionary sonic and bubble barrier for the St. Croix River.

Fisheries managers are currently looking into the effectiveness of such barriers in other locations.

The barriers work by using sound and bubbles to divert fish away from river mouths. Such technologies are experimental, especially on a river as large as the St. Croix, DNR officials say, and would not provide a 100-percent deterrent to Asian carp, but might keep their numbers at a manageable level while long-term control methods are developed.

DNR predicts best fall color season in 10 years
From the DNR

Minnesotans are encouraged to keep the camera batteries charged and to not put the tent or the picnic basket away just yet, because the upcoming fall color season could be the best it has been in 10 years, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“With adequate rain during the growing season for two consecutive years and recent weather patterns that have included the ideal combination of warm, sunny days and cool evenings, we’re predicting an especially vivid display of color across the state in the weeks ahead,” said Jana Albers, DNR forest health specialist.

Wondering when and where to schedule weekend getaways to catch the colors as they peak? Visit the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/fall_colors/index.html for online fall color reports provided by staff at Minnesota state parks and recreation areas from across the state.

Starting this week, reports will include percent of color change, peak color projections, flowers and grasses in bloom, and three state parks considered “hot picks” of the week. The reports are updated by noon every Thursday.

Thanks to a mobile website developed by the DNR last year, fall color information also can be accessed from mobile phones.

Android and iPhone (also iPod Touch and iPad) smart phones are both supported. People can also use any WebKit-based browser (Chrome or Safari) to view the website, which features real-time access to fall color reports and integration with Google maps. To view the site, visit www.mndnr.gov.

Colors typically peak between mid-September and early October in the northern third of Minnesota, between late September and early October in the central third, and between late September and mid-October in the southern third (which includes the Twin Cities).

Many Minnesota state parks have planned programs and special events to coincide with peak color projections in their area. Examples include:

For more information about these and many other free programs and special events, visit the online calendar at www.mndnr.gov, or call the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 1-888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

State park visitors are invited to upload their photos to the DNR’s fall color website.

A vehicle permit is required for entrance to Minnesota state parks and recreation areas.