With the pheasant population in long-term decline, Minnesota now has a plan to take action.
At Minnesota’s first Pheasant Summit meeting back in December, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) revealed their plan to reverse the pheasant population decline and boost pheasant hunting culture. The four-year “Pheasant Summit Action Plan” is still in draft form, but will be finalized later this year.
Though pheasants are often viewed as a hunting resource, it’s been recognized that their population trends can be indicative of the health of other wildlife species, water quality, and prairies. In other words, fixing one of these trends could have positive effects on the others.
To show commitment to the plan, the DNR created a new one-year position following the Pheasant Summit. The new Minnesota pheasant coordinator, Kevin Lines, stated:
I’m confident that if we get the funding, we’re going to see a benefit… Whether we see more pheasants will always depend on the weather.
The following ten actions have been recommended by the state in the Pheasant Summit Action Plan. For more details beyond the executive summary bullets below, check out the entire plan.
Key Points of Pheasant Summit Action Plan
1. Identify nine-square mile habitat complexes where the landscape is 25 to 40 percent permanently protected grassland to target future habitat protection efforts. The amount of grass, not the overall acreage, is crucial for pheasant nesting success.
2. Increase the rate of enrollment and retention in temporary conservation programs, and enrollment of permanent conservation easements by private landowners. Private ownership accounts for 95 percent of the land in the pheasant range.
3. Increase education and marketing of private lands conservation programs through the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership. The partnership involves the Board of Water and Soil Resources, DNR, Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund, and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Services.
4. Increase management of habitat on both public and private lands. “We usually aren’t doing enough management to maintain the health of our grasslands, especially on private lands,” the report says.
5. Accelerate acquisition of public lands open to hunting across the pheasant range, including state wildlife management areas and federal waterfowl production areas. This will require money, and the plan identifies possible sources such as state taxpayer-backed loans, lottery proceeds, federal funds and Legacy Amendment dollars.
6. Maximize the benefits of buffers for pheasants and other grassland wildlife. This was the top recommendation of attendees of the Pheasant Summit, and Gov. Dayton successfully pushed for a new law seeking better protection of waters, via vegetative buffer strips, during the legislative session.
7. Improve roadside management to optimize pheasant habitat. Among other aspects, the plan seeks to revitalize the Interagency Roadsides for Wildlife Task Force and Roadsides for Wildlife Program.
8. Secure federal funding to sustain the Walk-In Access program in the state’s pheasant range. Federal funds will be key to expanding Minnesota’s young program from 21,000 acres today to 30,000.
9. Expand public education about grassland and pheasant conservation issues and support hunter recruitment and retention. Hunter surveys, a four-year communications strategy, and a “scorecard” to monitor progress are included.
10. Expand monitoring and research capacity for both habitat and population studies of grassland wildlife and clearly communicate these results to the public. “Although we have been conducting habitat restoration, enhancement, and management projects for decades, many practitioners feel that we are just beginning to understand some of the complex processes we are attempting to replicate,” according to the plan.
What will the measures do to the health of Minnesota’s pheasants? Only time will tell.