Pheasants and pheasant habitat will benefit from approximately $60 million of more than $111 million in habitat programs and projects recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund next year.
The proposed projects will provide key support for several components of the Pheasant Summit Action Plan announced earlier this fall. That plan arose from the December 2014 Minnesota Pheasant Summit convened by Gov. Mark Dayton.
“This funding is critical to keeping up progress on key steps in the pheasant plan and highlights the great partnerships between governments and conservation organizations, in cooperation with interested landowners,” said Kevin Lines, pheasant action plan coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Outcomes of these projects will protect and restore grassland and wetland habitat; create and enhance habitat buffers; and restore once-drained wetlands.
“Together, these activities will improve habitat, wildlife populations, and hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities across the pheasant range,” Lines said.
The $60 million ties directly to several of the 10 steps included in the pheasant plan by helping to protect large complexes of wildlife habitat; enrolling more land in conservation easements; increasing quality of habitat on public and private land; adding more vegetative buffers along waterways; and increasing land open to public hunting.
“Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council members and staff are aware of the rates of habitat loss in southern and western Minnesota,” said Bob Anderson, who chairs the LSOHC. “We are pleased that our efforts are helping support these habitats and wildlife across Minnesota’s pheasant range as well as the rest of the state.”
The recommended funding package includes about $20 million to acquire public lands; $25 million for private land easement programs; and $15 million to enhance grasslands and wetlands on both public and private lands.
All the action plan steps, as well as the complete plan, are online at www.mndnr.gov/pheasantaction.
Recommendations made by the council this fall total more than $111 million. All funding requires approval by the 2016 Legislature.
“We want to thank LSOHC members and council staff for being aware of the habitat needs in southern and western Minnesota,” Lines said. “We are pleased that their efforts are helping support these habitats and wildlife across the pheasant range.”
In many of the projects, conservation organizations work with the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire land and do the initial improvement work. Once improvements are made, the DNR or FWS manage the land.
“Our partnerships with state and federal agencies lead directly to better hunting and better habitat for pheasants, which benefits other wildlife and water quality, too,” said Eran Sandquist, Pheasants Forever Minnesota state coordinator. “It takes all of us working together to make conservation effective on the landscape.”
Habitat loss continues to drive the long-term decline in pheasants, waterfowl and other grassland-dependent wildlife. Outdoor Heritage Funds and the support of council members are both crucial to help stem the tide of this loss, enhance existing public lands and make sure those lands are as productive for wildlife as possible.
The loss of nesting habitat, primarily driven by the expiration of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, is one of the largest factors explaining the decline of pheasants over the last six to eight years. Minnesota has lost 247,000 acres of CRP since 2007 and another 495,000 acres will expire by 2018 if contracts are not renewed or new acres enrolled in the program.
“There is no one single answer to the issue of grassland habitat loss and declining grassland wildlife populations,” said Greg Hoch, DNR prairie habitat team supervisor. “Bringing wildlife populations back to historic levels will require a combination of protecting and restoring habitat on public and private lands and managing those lands for the benefit of wildlife.”
The LSOHC, made up of eight citizen and four legislative members, reviews project proposals for the Outdoor Heritage Fund and makes funding recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature for approval.
The fund was created after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008, which increased sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent. The Outdoor Heritage Fund receives one-third of the sales tax dollars and may only be spent to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for game, fish, and wildlife.
Details on all the proposals recommended by the council can be found at http://tinyurl.com/LSOHC2016.
Conditions look good for late-season pheasant hunting
Plenty of roosters in the fields and light hunting pressure are two good reasons why Minnesotans should keep their pheasant hunting gear handy, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
“People may not realize that pheasant hunting success is probably as good as it has been in many parts of the pheasant range for the last three to five years,” said Cory Netland, DNR area wildlife supervisor for six counties in the Willmar area.
The daily bag limit is two roosters through November with a possession limit of six. BeginningTuesday, Dec. 1, the daily bag limit increases to three roosters with a possession limit of nine.
Weather conditions during the first few weeks of the season were warmer and drier than average, making it tougher for hunters and their dogs. However, temperatures are cooling off and recent rains should help dogs pick up the scent of birds.
“Conditions are shaping up nicely for the last half of the season, and there are still plenty of birds out there,” said Nicole Davros, DNR upland game project leader.
Pheasants are still using grassland cover and haven’t appeared to move to winter cover just yet. Pheasants will move to winter cover such as cattail sloughs or willow thickets once grasses get pushed down by snow or heavy rains. Netland said that snow shouldn’t scare hunters away.
“A light snow can actually help with pheasant hunting because it makes it easier to find roosters in winter cover,” Netland said. “And hunting access improves once cattail wetlands freeze up.”
Many DNR wildlife managers have noted that hunting pressure has been lighter than expected so far. Yet those who have spent time in the fields have had plenty of opportunities to harvest roosters. Some hunters have even reported filling their daily bag limits within their first hour afield.
The upcoming holidays will take even more attention away from pheasant hunting, yet hunting can be a part of holiday traditions.
“There is no better way to spend time with family and friends while walking off the holiday calories than pushing through tall grasses and cattails for the chance to harvest roosters,” Davros said.
Hunters need a small game license and a pheasant stamp to hunt pheasants in Minnesota. A small game license costs $22 for Minnesota residents age 18 to 64, and the pheasant stamp costs $7.50. Pheasant hunters 65 and older need to buy a small game license for $13.50 but are not required to buy a stamp. Hunters age 16 to 17 must buy a $5 small game license but do not need to buy a stamp, and hunters under 16 can hunt pheasants without a license or stamp.
Minnesota’s 2015 pheasant season is open through Sunday, Jan. 3. Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset. Additional details are available at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasant.