Minnesota pheasant hunters are expected to have a much better season this year than last, but the long term outlook is not so bright. The hunting season starts today.
Poor weather has hurt pheasant reproduction but the numbers rebounded with last winter's mild temperatures, said Kurt Haroldson, a biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. Pheasant numbers have grown by 68 percent over last year, according to a DNR survey. That means hunters should take about 100,000 more roosters this fall than last year. But the decline of a key federal program causes concern for the long run.
The Conservation Reserve Program has helped to boost pheasant numbers, said Dave Nomsen with Pheasants Forever. CRP pays farmers to convert cropland into grasses or other cover vegetation. But the number of acres farmers enroll in the program is declining, he said.
"Prior to CRP, we were struggling to harvest say, 200,000 birds in the state of Minnesota," Nomsen said. "Once CRP became established, typically, our harvest levels more than doubled."
Haroldson said Minnesota is losing grasslands as farmers till and plant more acres, and that will limit future pheasant population growth.
"The big concern is loss of habitat," Haroldson said. "Nothing we can do about the weather, but loss of habitat we can influence."
Also a concern is the delay in passing a new farm bill, since that is a determining factor in what sort of CRP program is offered in coming years, Nomsen said.