Iowa’s pheasant population hits highest mark in 6 years, harvest expected to climb to 300K
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has released results from the state’s annual roadside survey revealing a 151 percent increase in the statewide pheasant index. Pheasants Forever, the national conservation organization with 100 Pheasants Forever chapters and 19,000 members in Iowa, calls the state’s highest pheasant mark in six years more reason to double down on the upland habitat initiatives making a pheasant recovery possible.
“This number is just the first step in the right direction,” says Brice Morris, Pheasants Forever’s regional representative in northern Iowa, “Through the last decade downturn, Pheasants Forever and the DNR have remained on the offensive in protecting habitat knowing when weather conditions break right, these prolific birds respond. Upland habitat has to continue to be the focus because Mother Nature isn’t always so kind.” Morris points to Pheasants Forever’s Farm Bill wildlife biologist program, which has employed a dozen conservation specialists in key pheasant areas around the state to work with private landowners, and the “Enhance a Wildlife Area” program, where Pheasants Forever chapters and the DNR focus to improve habitat on and adjacent to public wildlife areas, as key examples.
Based on this year’s statewide index, Iowa pheasant hunters are expected to harvest between 200,000 and 300,000 roosters. The future could be even brighter, provided more habitat gains can be made. “Iowa currently has 2.77 million acres of potential pheasant habitat. This level of habitat should support an 850,000 rooster harvest. Iowa needs two or three more good winters and springs back-to-back to fully recover numbers to what habitat levels can support. It will be very hard to recover Iowa pheasant numbers if significant CRP losses continue in Iowa,” says Todd Bogenschutz, the Iowa DNR’s upland wildlife research biologist.
Bogenschutz says there has been strong interest in continuous CRP practices, and landowners interested in helping to rebuild the state’s pheasant population should look into the Iowa Pheasant Recovery SAFE practice. “This new practice is designed to help recover pheasant populations on farms that enroll in the practice. There is over 40,000 acres currently available,” Bogenschutz says. Interested landowners should contact their local Pheasants Forever Farm Bill wildlife biologist, their local DNR private lands biologist or stop by their local FSA office for more info.
While bird numbers are nowhere near heyday levels, Bogenschutz says hunter numbers and hunting pressure has really declined which means there are underutilized hunting opportunities statewide. “Hunters should be pleasantly surprised by the improved bird numbers in parts of Iowa. Hunters need to focus around areas with good winter cover and grassland nesting habitat.” Northwest, west-central, central and southeast Iowa all topped more than 20 birds seen per survey route in 2014.
Iowa’s pheasant hunting season opens October 25, 2014 and runs through January 10, 2015.
Bob St. Pierre (651) 209-4931
Logo courtesy Pheasants Forever