posted on November 01, 2004 00:00
Pheasant population making comeback
ST. PAUL -- With Nebraska's pheasant hunting season set to open Nov. 6, Pheasant Forever officials are reporting that the state's pheasant population is at a 10-year high.
According to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, its summer roadside survey reported a 28 percent jump in pheasant numbers.
"Nebraska's the only state in the Midwest with an increase this year," said Pete Berthelsen of St. Paul, state director of conservation programs for Pheasant Forever.
Berthelsen contributes the upturn in pheasant numbers to good nesting and brooding weather and a dramatic increase in wildlife habitat.
He said the weather influence that has the largest determining factor as to how many pheasants there are in the fall happens during June.
In June, pheasant nest hatching occurs and heavy rainfall or cooler-than-normal temperatures can cause a high mortality rate among baby pheasants, especially those 10 days of age or under.
Berthelsen said one of the reasons pheasant numbers are down throughout the Midwest was the heavy spring rains.
"It wasn't really the greatest of springs here, but you can't complain about rain after what we have gone through," he said.
Berthelsen said the increase in habitat has been the single most important factor for the jump in pheasant numbers.
He said over the last five years, Pheasants Forever and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have formed a partnership called "Focus on Pheasants" that worked to improve habitat.
"In the areas where we have done that, it has had a tremendous impact," Berthelsen said.
Under the program, last year Pheasants Forever restored its 1 millionth acre of habitat, which is at Sherman Reservoir. So far this year, Berthelsen said they have restored an additional 253,000 acres of habitat.
"Pheasants Forever and a lot of different organizations, including the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, are all working together to accomplish this goal because no one organization can think of reaching those accomplishments by itself," he said.
To aid that effort of increasing wildlife habitat in Nebraska, state officials learned this week that more than 60,000 acres of land was accepted into the Conservation Reserve Program from the 29th sign-up that occurred during September.
Nebraska now has more than 1.2 million acres enrolled into CRP.
It's primarily on those CRP acres where Pheasants Forever is directing its habitat restoration efforts.
To celebrate the accomplishment of restoring 1.25 million acres of habitat in Nebraska, Pheasants Forever's National Pheasant Fest will b e held at Omaha's Qwest Center in January.
To illustrate the effectiveness of how Pheasants Forever targets its efforts in habitat restoration in particular townships on CRP acres, in one such township in the northeastern part of the state, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission summer brood survey reported 52 broods along a 50-mile route. Berthelsen said without the restoration effort, during a good year surveyors would probably have seen 10 to 12 broods along that particular route.
He said restoring habitat not only has many environmental benefits, but also can contribute to rural economic development by attracting both in-state and out-of-state hunters.
Berthelsen said in Nebraska small game hunters spend $41.8 million each year with 66 percent of all hunters in Nebraska pursuing pheasants.
"When you add in all hunting (deer, waterfowl, etc.), it is $198.1 million each year," he said.
Daylan Figgs, district wildlife manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission out of Kearney, said a lot of folks across the state have been working hard to increase pheasant numbers through habitat restoration efforts.
"Pheasants Forever is certainly one who is leading the charge through chapter efforts, as well the efforts by organization on the state level," Figgs said.
Along with the habitat restoration, Figgs said weather has helped pheasant recovery in Nebraska.
"Certain things that are outside our control have fallen into place as well, such as good nesting weather and good brood weather," Figgs said.
But the ultimate payoff from the efforts to increase Nebraska pheasant numbers will be increasing the number of hunters, especially the out-of-state hunter total, which has declined in recent years along with bird numbers.
"Hopefully, we can reverse that trend through better pheasant numbers," Figgs said. "That's our goal."
NEBRASKA 2004 UPLAND GAME HUNTING OUTLOOK
The following forecast is based on spring and summer small game population surveys conducted by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Two main summer population surveys produced somewhat conflicting results this year. Statewide, 2004 brood counts were unchanged from last year, but July rural mail carrier counts improved 28 percent and were at their highest level since 1995. Regionally, the northeast had the highest average counts in the state and showed healthy gains from 2003 in both surveys.
The southwest and southeast were the next-highest regions, with pheasant abundance generally similar to last year. Inconsistent survey results were obtained in Central Nebraska, the Sandhills, and the Panhandle, where pheasants are less abundant.
While mixed results make predictions difficult, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission generally expects good pheasant hunting conditions in eastern and southwestern Nebraska, where pheasant numbers should meet or exceed 2003 levels. Fewer pheasant hunting opportunities are available in western and Central Nebraska, but bird numbers there should be roughly similar to 2003.
Similarly to pheasants, summer survey results for bobwhites were not consistent. Statewide, spring whistle counts were similar to last year, whereas July rural mail carrier counts improved 21 percent and were the highest since 1996. Southeast Nebraska, along with the eastern Platte and Republican River drainages, remain the general areas with the highest quail densities.
Grassland habitat conditions appear fair to good over much of the Sandhills, but are below normal in the western Sandhills and Panhandle. Prairie chicken numbers in southeast Nebraska remain strong; a limited number of permits are available to hunt in this area.
Cottontail numbers appear much higher this year than last year across much of the state; July rural mail carrier counts were the highest since 1981. The southeast remains the region with the highest cottontail densities, but wooded habitats statewide can provide excellent hunting for this underutilized species.
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