posted on February 15, 2016 04:32
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is one of the government’s greatest achievements when it comes to habitat conservation. The program pays farmers to set aside marginal cropland and allow it to become grassland habitat. The program was so successful that the majority of grassland in South Dakota and Minnesota was due to this initiative.
However, farmers have been abandoning the program because of high crop prices and cuts to the program’s budget. Now many of the fields reserved for pheasant habitat have been ploughed and planted and this has had a significant impact on both pheasant populations and the hunters who participate in the sport.
Since 2007, South Dakota has seen the biggest loses with 600,000 acres of grassland disappearing and contacts covering another 200,000 acres of grassland ending in September. Minnesota lost 97,000 acres of grassland from the same period but this year, it is set to double, as 100,000 acres of grassland is covered from contracts that have now expired.
At its peak, there was CRP funding for 36 million acres. However, that has now been cut by a third to 24 million acres.
These losses have had a knock on effect on the pheasant populations in both South Dakota and Minnesota. For instance, last year, there were 143,000 rooster hunters in South Dakota. This included 80,000 non-resident hunters. This was 40,000 fewer hunters than there were in 2007.
The 58,000 resident pheasant hunters in 2013, was the lowest in the state since 1938. The harvest in 2014 was also the second lowest harvest in the past 16 years.
Yet these statistics are not surprising. Despite the good weather and the improvement in other conservation efforts, there are still habitat concerns and although there has been a 42% increase in the pheasant population from last year, generally, the counts of pheasants in South Dakota are 30% lower than the 10 year average.
To help combat the decline, South Dakota has recently launched a website, Habitat Pays. It aims to help landowners develop and maintain habitat for a variety of wildlife, not just pheasants.
And despite the recent troubles, Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Government Affairs, remains upbeat. “I’m feeling better than I was a year ago,’’ he said. “But there’s no question we have a hell of a challenge in front of us.’’
What can be done to help improve pheasant hunters and populations? What are you doing for the habitat?
Let us know in the comments.