By Matt Miller firstname.lastname@example.org
Up in the air
Upcoming Pheasants Forever State Convention hopes to find solution to decreasing bird populations
When Pheasants Forever and other conservation leaders convene next month for the annual State Convention in Des Moines, one of the main topics of discussion will be Iowa’s wintery weather. Officials hope the 2011 Farmer’s Almanac is incorrect, as it predicts the region to have a snowier-than-normal winter, which could spell disaster for the state’s already dwindling pheasant population.
“There’s been a near collapse of the pheasant population over the past three years,” said Tom Fuller, eastern Iowa regional representative with Pheasants Forever. “It’s been exceptionally poor, and the most frustrating thing about it is that you can’t put your finger on one certain thing – it’s a combination of things that have really hurt the birds in Iowa.”
The upcoming Pheasants Forever State Convention will be held Jan. 14 - 16, 2011. A few hundred individuals representing Pheasants Forever, nature conservationists and other officials gather for exhibits, special events and seminars ranging from dog training to habitat management for pheasants, quail, turkey and deer.
“It’s a time for everyone to come together and share common knowledge about creating habitat to bring the birds back,” said Jared Wiklund, central Iowa regional representative with Pheasants Forever. “I’m looking forward to meeting others who care so much about the state’s special game bird.”
Iowa’s pheasant season began on Oct. 30, and officials hope numbers are much higher than the estimated 200,000 to 300,000 birds to be harvested this season. Just a few years ago, hunters consistently bagged more than one million pheasants per season in the state. Officials blame harsh winters and recent spring flooding for the record-low 383,000 birds harvested in 2008.
“The two biggest aspects that effect pheasants are habitat and bad winter weather,” Wiklund said. “If we can get some good weather, we can bounce back.”
Pheasants Forever officials aren’t banking on Mother Nature playing nice this winter, as they continue to work hard to restore proper habitat to a sport that brings in nearly $186 million per year to the state of Iowa. According to reports, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever chapters have raised and spent approximately $33 million on the organization’s wildlife habitat mission. They have also planted thousands of acres of nesting cover, food plots, shrubs and trees and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres. This past summer, the United States Department of Agriculture offered a general CRP signup for the first time in four years. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other conservation organizations are working on habitat initiatives to offer landowners, which could create additional environments for pheasants, quail and other nongame wildlife, too.
“When our pheasant numbers increase, the state’s revenue is up,” Wiklund said. “Both are going through tough times right now, but we’re trying to provide a technical service to help landowners know the available resources to benefit themselves and upland game.”
While a quick population turnaround will be difficult, Fuller says it is possible and hunters will eventually see pheasant numbers increase.
“We used to produce pheasants accidently by land use, but we’re going to need Mother Nature to smile upon us here soon,” Fuller said. “But in the meantime, we need to continue to increase the number of quality habitats out there for the birds, and people must remember that it takes time. Hopefully we’ll see an abundant population back in Iowa’s grasslands soon.”
Locker Room note: The Orange Planet, 5650 Metro East Drive in Pleasant Hill, will host “Next: H.S. Hoop Night” from Jan. 22-April 30, 2011. It will be held each Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. Participants must have a current high school ID and $5 for entry. Visit www.theorangeplanet.com. CV
Caption: Snowy winters and wet springs aren’t a good combination for Iowa pheasants. Photo courtesy of Jared Wiklund