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Pheasant population up slightly; habitat loss still poses biggest threat

September 15, 2014

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Despite a short-term increase in the number of Minnesota pheasants, habitat loss continues to be the primary factor in the long-term decline of the state’s pheasant population, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR’s August roadside survey for pheasants showed a six percent increase in the pheasant index from 2013, an increase that occurred in spite of a severe winter, a slow start to spring and heavy rains in June.

This year’s statewide pheasant index was 28.7 birds per 100 miles of roadside driven.

The highest pheasant counts were in the southwest, south-central and west-central regions, where observers reported 28 to 62 birds per 100 miles driven.

Hunters will find good harvest opportunities in these areas.

Looking over longer periods of time, the 2014 pheasant index is 58 percent below the 10-year average and 71 percent below the long-term average.

Weather and habitat are the two main factors that drive pheasant population trends.

Weather causes annual fluctuations in roadside indices.

Available grassland habitat for nesting and brood-rearing drives the longer-term pattern.

Like other Midwestern states, the loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres is the primary reason there’s been a steady decline in Minnesota’s pheasant harvest since 2006.

“We expect the decline in the rooster harvest to continue because of more anticipated losses in grassland habitat in the next few years as CRP contracts continue to expire and more grassland is converted to cropland,” said Nicole Davros, the DNR research scientist who oversees the August roadside survey.

Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 224,000 roosters this fall, which is less than half the number of pheasants taken during the 2005-2008 seasons when hunting was exceptionally good.

Davros cautioned that direct comparisons between survey results from this year and last year may not accurately reflect population trends.

“The 2014 pheasant roadside counts do show improvement over last year’s numbers but we believe there were more birds in the field last year than what we counted because of the late hatch,” Davros said. “This year’s results suggest the survey did not undercount birds so hunting conditions should be comparable to last fall.”

Although many regions in Minnesota experienced a tough winter, conditions within the core of the pheasant range were not as severe.

This likely led to higher winter survival for hens as evidenced by an 18 percent increase in the hen index from 2013.

Higher winter hen survival leads to more pheasant nests in the spring.

Reproductive indices showed increases from 2013 despite having cooler spring temperatures and substantial rainfalls in June.

The number of broods observed per 100 miles driven increased 28 percent and the number of broods per 100 hens increased three percent.

The average number of chicks per brood was down 15 percent compared to 2013, which may be related to below normal survival rates of very young birds during heavy rains in June.

The median hatch date of nests was June 16, which was five days later than the 10-year average.

Warmer temperatures in June may have helped young chicks survive the rains and drier conditions in July were beneficial for re-nesting birds.

Monitoring pheasant population trends is part of the DNR’s annual August roadside wildlife survey, which began in 1955.

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

This year’s survey consisted of 171 routes, each 25 miles long, with 152 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 population trends of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits, mourning doves and other wildlife.

Also recorded in the survey:

• The cottontail rabbit index increased 11 percent from 2013 but remained below the 10-year average and long-term averages.

• The gray partridge index decreased 13 percent, well below its 10-year and long-term average.

• The mourning dove index decreased five percent, well below its 10-year and long-term average.

• The white-tailed jackrabbit index was similar to last year but remains at a historic low.

• The white-tailed deer index was similar to 2013, at 20.8 deer per 100 miles, which is 34 percent above the 10-year average, and 109 percent above the long-term average.

The 2014 August Roadside Survey report and a map of pheasant hunting prospects can be viewed and downloaded from www.mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasant.

Minnesota’s 2014 pheasant season runs Saturday, Oct. 11, through Sunday, Jan. 4.

The daily bag limit is two roosters through November.

It increases to three roosters from Monday, Dec. 1, through Sunday, Jan. 4.

The possession limit is six roosters (increasing to nine roosters on Dec. 1).

Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset.

Additional details are available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasant.

DNR’s fall color finder will help travelers with trip planning
From the DNR

Minnesota state park and trail visitors will soon be seeing red and orange and yellow and countless other shades of autumn as the leaves and prairies grasses put on their annual show.

To help travelers plan their fall hikes, bike rides, paddling trips and scenic drives to coincide as closely as possible with peak color, staff at Minnesota state parks and recreation areas will update an online fall color finder at www.mndnr.gov/fallcolor every Thursday, starting Sept. 4.

This online trip-planning tool includes a map showing where to find peak color across the state, a link to fall color programs and special events, a slideshow and a photo uploader that provides an easy way for people to share their favorite fall color images.

“We’re anticipating a beautiful fall color display,” said Patricia Arndt, communications and outreach manager for the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails Division. “It will move across the state quickly, though, so we encourage everyone to get out and enjoy it while it lasts. The fall color finder can help people locate a park or trail to visit or a naturalist program that the whole family can enjoy.”

Family-oriented fall color programs are also listed in a free “Feel the Wow of Fall” brochure available at Minnesota state parks and recreation areas, at Twin Cities libraries and at metro area outdoor retail stores.

The DNR Information Center will also mail the brochure to anyone who requests it.

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).

Peak fall color typically lasts about two weeks, but that can vary widely, depending on location, elevation and weather.

Trees at higher elevations are the earliest to show color change.

For smartphone and tablet users, the DNR offers fall colors “to go” on a mobile fall color finder that is integrated with Google maps.

To access the mobile version, scan the QR code at http://mndnr.gov/mobile or visit www.mndnr.gov/mobile/fall_colors and bookmark the site.

For more information, visit the online calendar at www.mndnr.gov/ptcalendar or call the DNR Information Center at 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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

Anyone who purchases a one-day permit ($5) can exchange it for $5 off a year-round permit later the same day.

Year-round permits, $25, provide unlimited access to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas for a full year from the month of purchase.

DNR digital tools help plan for time hunting
From the DNR

Hunters making plans for upcoming seasons can get scouting and other services from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources digital tools.

“Hunters have access to maps and aerial photos that can help in finding new hunting opportunities,” said Jay Johnson, hunter recruitment and retention supervisor. “They can buy hunting licenses online including with a mobile phone, check hunting regulations or, after seasons open, go online to register a deer they harvested.”

In addition to registering a deer online, hunters can also go online to register a bear, wolf or turkey.

While studying maps will rarely beat time spent outdoors hunting or scouting hunting land, these and other tools can help in planning routes to and from a deer stand, seeing terrain features and getting a better sense of an area.

Maps

The DNR’s Recreation Compass at www.mndnr.gov/maps/compass.html includes everything from state forests to waterfowl production areas to Walk-in Access sites.

Deer hunters can see the boundaries of deer permit areas and zoom in to see how permit area boundaries relate to where they hunt. The site also includes a mobile version.

Hunter walking trails provide access to grouse and other small-game hunting, with information at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/hwt.

At www.mndnr.gov/wmas, learn more about Minnesota’s more than 1,500 wildlife management areas (WMA) that include a total of more than 1.3 million acres managed as WMAs.

These areas are open to public hunting and trapping, as well as other uses such as hiking, wildlife watching and cross country skiing.

Maps allow users to search by county for WMAs.

For each WMA, users can see what types of hunting area allowed, read reports on habitat management, and view maps that show locations of water and different types of trees or vegetation.

A number of other mapping tools can be used. An index of some of them is at www.mndnr.gov/maps.

Hunting information

The DNR’s hunting pages can be found through www.mndnr.gov/hunting, which links to a grouse hunting page at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse, a waterfowl hunting page at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl, and a deer hunting page at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/deer.

Deer management information can be found at www.mndnr.gov/deer, which includes information about upcoming deer population goal setting.

Hunting regulations can be found at www.mndnr.gov/regulations/hunting.

Licenses

Minnesota residents and non-residents interested in hunting can purchase licenses online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense.

The site also includes online harvest registration, vehicle and boat renewal, and safety training certification.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: Our school is planning a field trip to a Minnesota state park. Will we need to pay entry fees?

A: Minnesota state parks will issue a free daily vehicle permit for any vehicle transporting K-12 students, chaperones, teachers and coaches for school-sanctioned activities.

This applies to day trips, not overnight camping.

Please have your drivers identify themselves at the park entrance, and enjoy your visit.

CO weekly reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers this past week.
CO Mies took part in boating work crews.
CO Mies worked on AIS investigation along with training.

• CO Mitch Sladek (Big Lake) worked fishermen on area lakes and rivers.
He took a number of nuisance animal calls.
He answered a number of deer, waterfowl and wolf questions.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) checked anglers and early goose hunters.
Opening goose was pretty good in the area with most hunters getting a few birds.
A lot of blue wing teal moved into the area.
Enforcement action was taken for angling without a license, no federal waterfowl stamp and no State waterfowl stamp.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) worked the dove and goose opener which was very successful for most hunters.
The St. Croix bridge security project was worked.
Anglers and boaters were checked for safety equipment, fish and AIS violations.
Enforcement action was taken for no small game license, no state waterfowl stamp, no personal flotation devices onboard watercraft and AIS violations.

• CO Brent Grewe (Minnetonka) spent the week checking anglers and following up with complaints.
During the week CO Grewe checked a couple shore fishing together and when he asked for their fishing licenses the male party stated they were in the car and that he would go get them.
Twenty minutes later the male party returned with fishing licenses for the two of them.
The licenses were date and time stamped and had just been bought five minutes prior and enforcement action was taken. Other violations included taking an over limit of sunfish.

• CO Jen Mueller (Hutchinson) checked anglers, boaters and PWC operators during the Labor Day holiday.
She did some patrols in a state park and some WMAs with reports of trap and target shooting occurring.
ATV laws were enforced. Many questions were answered with the anticipation of the start of the early goose season.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) worked a beautiful opening weekend of the early goose season.
Hunters found more birds than in the August season.
Oberg also worked ATV, AIS and angling enforcement.
Burning issues were also handled in the area.
Oberg also spent time answering hunter’s questions at an event in Hutchinson.