The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today their annual August roadside survey indicated a 6 percent increase in pheasants
over last year. The increase comes in spite of the state’s severe winter and very wet spring. In fact, heavy rains hit Minnesota’s pheasant range in mid-June during what is normally the peak of the pheasant hatch.
Pheasants Forever joins the Minnesota DNR in its message that habitat continues to pose the biggest threat to the state’s long-term pheasant population. According to the DNR, 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 driving pheasant populations. Weather leads to annual fluctuations in roadside indices, while available grassland habitat for nesting and brood-rearing drives the longer-term trends.
Like most states in pheasant country, Minnesota has witnessed a large conversion of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands to row crop production in recent years. In fact, there have been 665,663 acres once enrolled in CRP in Minnesota that have expired from 2007 through 2013. Most of those acres are no longer in grassland habitat, which is largely responsible for the precipitous decline in the state’s bird numbers from a time just a few years ago when the state set pheasant harvest milestones not experienced in some 60 years.
“Minnesota pheasant hunters should be extremely thankful to have the base of permanently protected Wildlife Management and Waterfowl Production Areas we have in this state,” reported Eran Sandquist, Pheasants Forever’s state coordinator for Minnesota. “Add 15,380 acres of habitat improved through the Outdoor Heritage Fund and these permanently protected acres are the foundation upon which we can build up our pheasant numbers.”