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Project aims to increase pheasant population

PLEASANT VALLEY, Idaho (AP) -- Many pheasant hunters in southeastern Idaho remember the heydays of the 1960s and 1970s, when habitat for the game bird was plentiful.

But with progress came decline. As farmers' irrigation systems grew more precise and farming machinery more efficient, the tall, weedy patches where the birds lived began to disappear. So did the birds.

Now Gary Gehring, owner of Gehring Agri-business, and the conservation organization Pheasants Forever have started planting trees in hopes that they can revitalize pheasant hunting by reviving the birds' habitat. The Idaho Fish and Game Department and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are assisting, and Gehring hopes similar efforts will be made across the region.

"I think conservation, agriculture and ranching have a lot in common," Gehring said. "We decided that we wanted to do something large enough that it would have an effect. We wanted to leave a footprint."

So far Gehring and the groups have planted almost 3,000 Scotch pine and Colorado blue spruce trees and shrubs in long windrows along a hill on his property, accompanied by patches of unharvested corn and grain. In the roughest terrain at the hill's base, weeds have been left to grow more than six feet high.

In all, more than 80 acres have been dedicated to the birds, and it's open for public hunting.

The result on project lands like the Gehrings', said Pheasants Forever regional wildlife biologist Walt Bodie, is a bumper crop of pheasants.

Pheasants Forever provides manpower, government agencies supply the funds and landowners such as the Gehrings provide the long-term commitment to maintaining the habitat. In this case that commitment means supplying the windrows with irrigation water.

"This is like having a new 1-year-old baby," Gehring said.

His son Jared Gehring, 27, envisions the project someday reaching beyond property lines.

"I'd like to see more of our neighbors do some habitat projects," he said.

Randy Budge, habitat coordinator for Southeastern Idaho Pheasants Forever, said partnerships between communities, governments and groups are essential to the conservation effort.

"I don't think we can ever raise enough money to make a difference on our own," Budge said. But by partnering with wildlife agencies such as Fish and Game and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pheasants Forever has been able to launch four habitat projects.

In addition to the Gehring project, Pheasants Forever has also helped with projects on the Klempel farm in Aberdeen and the Smith farm in Grace and created a food plot for pheasants near Malad.

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