2017 Minnesota Pheasant Summit Action Plan Report Card Indicates Encouraging Progress

eb6845cd-af71-48f7-af77-03f82933001f Nearly three years ago, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton announced plans to convene the state’s first-ever Pheasant Summit at the request of upland hunters and conservation entities. It was that conference which led to the development of a comprehensive, four-year strategy by a Minnesota DNR steering committee to restore grassland habitat and revitalize Minnesota’s pheasant hunting traditions: Minnesota’s Pheasant Summit Action Plan.
 
Delivering on a promise to provide a Minnesota Pheasant Action Plan report card every year through 2018, the recently published second report card by the Minnesota DNR has shown incremental improvements over the previous year. Pheasants Forever remains committed in its devotion to assisting the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and its many partners to achieve the deliverables identified in the four-year Action Plan.
 
“The report card is an important component of the Pheasant Summit Action Plan because it allows the DNR, partners, and the public to monitor progress on the 10 strategies and associated action steps in the plan,” said Kevin Lines, DNR Pheasant Action Plan Coordinator. “Pheasant populations are an indicator of the health of the landscape and the associated habitat is important not only for hunters, but also for all Minnesotans who care about clean water, healthy soils and our state’s natural heritage.”
 
2017 Report Card Summary:
 
  1. Target habitat enhancement and protection in complexes at least 9 square miles in size where we can meet a goal of 40 percent permanent protection within the time frame of this plan.
 
  • Improvement: Partners have identified 22 additional habitat complexes
 
  1. Increase the rate of enrollment and retention in short-term conservation programs and the enrollment of permanent conservation easements by private landowners.
 
  • Improvement: BWSR (Board of Water and soil Resources) received $39 million for RIM from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and Clean Water Fund for habitat improvements, and the state has increased its overall acreage for continuous CRP contracts.
 
  • Need of Improvement: General CRP declined 13.6 percent from 594,000 in 2015 to 513,400 acres in 2016.
 
  1. Increase the education and marketing of private lands conservation programs through the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership (FBAP).
 
  • Improvement: BWSR, NRCS, MASWCD, PF, AND DNR signed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). Partners hired an additional six Farm Bill biologists, expanding the program from 47 to 53 counties. In 2016, acres increased in the primary pheasant range from 54,081 to 81,962 acres.
 
  1. Increase management of habitat on both public and private lands.
 
  • Trending Improvement: Outdoor Heritage Funds increased from $4 million in 2015 to $5.9 million in 2016. Minnesota partners were funded 10 small NAWCA grants, up from eight in 2015.
 
  • Trending Steady: Prescribed fire acres on Wildlife Management Areas and Waterfowl Production Areas increased to 8.6 percent in 2016 over the previous year, but were 19 percent below the 10-year average. Target goal is to increase acres of nesting, brood-rearing, and winter cover managed each year by 50 percent.
 
  1. Accelerate acquisition of public lands open to hunting across the pheasant range, including state Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and federal Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA).
 
  • Need of Improvement: Governor’s 2016 bonding proposal included $9.5 million for WMA/AMA acquisitions, but no bill was passed. The department and partners continue working to increase acquisition funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund to $40 million annually.
 
  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive riparian buffer program.
 
  • Improvement: DNR has completed the buffer mapping. BWSR is working with counties on implementation.  $11 million per year has been secured for SWCDs and an additional $2.5 million per year for the buffer program and other conservation efforts.
 
  • Trending Steady: Implementation of stream and ditch buffers is currently in progress to meet the deadlines of 2017 and 2018.
 
  1. Improve roadside management to optimize pheasant habitat.
 
  • Need of Improvement: No legislation pending to delay annual roadside mowing until August 1st for the 2017 session.
 
  1. Secure federal funding to sustain the Walk-In Access (WIA) program in Minnesota’s pheasant range.
 
  • Trending Improvement: Continued to build the WIA program with federal funding from the United States Department of Agriculture. WIA expanded from 35 to 46 counties in 2016, including expanded WIA acreage from 22,800 acres in 2015 to 23,400 acres in 2016.
 
  1. Expand education about grassland and pheasant conservation issues and support hunter recruitment and retention.
 
  • Improvement: The DNR and University of Minnesota are developing a survey for hunters and landowners. The DNR has developed a communication strategy and is working with partners to integrate messaging. DNR hosted a Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation (R3) Summit in August to address hunter decline in Minnesota
 
  • Need of Improvement: Pheasant stamp sales were flat from 77,565 in 2015 to 77,218 in 2016 despite an increase in the total pheasant population
 
  1. Expand monitoring and research capacity for both habitat and population studies of grassland wildlife and clearly communicate these results to the public.
 
  • Improvement: DNR researchers and partners have identified multiple pheasant, habitat, and management priorities. Research staff have been recommended for funding through LCCMR and DNR will be pursuing federal funds. There are multiple research projects in partnership with agency staff and the University to look at several aspects of grassland habitat. There will be additional grant proposals submitted in 2017.