Minnesota’s pheasant survey up 68 percentDULUTH, Minn. — The annual August roadside count of Minnesota’s pheasant population showed a 68 percent increase this year over a dismal 2011, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported Tuesday.
By: John Myers, The Dickinson Press
DULUTH, Minn. — The annual August roadside count of Minnesota’s pheasant population showed a 68 percent increase this year over a dismal 2011, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported Tuesday.
The DNR credits a mild winter and a warm, dry spring in the state’s pheasant range with the big increase over last year.
Based on the survey results, pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 290,000 roosters this fall. That’s up from last year’s estimated harvest of 204,000 but still only about half of the average for 2005-2008, when pheasant production and hunting were unusually good.
Pheasants took a huge hit during the winter of 2010-11 across the Upper Midwest as winter and early spring storms reduced their numbers. It may take several years of good reproduction for the population to bounce back fully.
“While the 2012 increase reflects movement in a positive direction, the counts still remain 51 percent below the 10-year average,” said Kurt Haroldson, the DNR biologist who compiled the survey.
South Dakota also reported an increase this year, with the statewide average pheasant count up 18 percent over 2011.
A looming problem for pheasants, even if winters are mild, is the dwindling acres of grass and other habitat that are being plowed under as farmers plant more crops to cash in on high commodity prices. The state stands to lose thousands of more acres formerly enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program. During the next three years, contracts for 620,000 acres of CRP lands are scheduled to expire. If not re-enrolled, this would reduce CRP acres in Minnesota by 42 percent.
“The state’s pheasant population is linked more closely to quantity and quality of habitat than annual differences in weather,” Haroldson said.
The DNR early-August wildlife survey summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, Hungarian partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours throughout the farmland region of Minnesota. The highest pheasant counts were in the west central region, where observers reported 58 birds per 100 miles of survey driven. Hunters will find good harvest opportunities in portions of west-central, east-central and southwest Minnesota.
The gray partridge index also increased from last year and is similar to the 10-year average. The cottontail rabbit index remains below the 10-year and long-term average. The jackrabbit index was 96 percent below the long-term average. The mourning dove index was 36 percent above last year but similar to the 10-year average.