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Pheasant numbers growing

By Staff | Sep 20, 2014

Joe Cain

AKRON – Joe Cain, of Akron, said he thinks of himself as being in “pheasant farming.”

The manager of the Hole-in-the-Wall, in Akron, is in his 15th year of volunteer work with Plymouth County’s Pheasants Forever organization.

Cain, the habitat chairman for the northwest Iowa PF chapter, said he’s hopeful the organization can help even more to maintain the upward swing in pheasant numbers.

“I’ve always felt it should be obvious to everyone that what we do today will dictate the future,” Cain said. “This includes how we provide not only for our pheasant population, but all wildlife.”

The recent grain price drop has resulted in a significant number of unfarmed acres to be brought back into production, Cain said, which were formerly pheasant nesting or feeding sites.

Rob Gray

He said the 2013-14 frigid winter, with insufficient snow cover, did much to harm the pheasant population.

Similarly, heavy snow cover in other years create additional stress on the birds making forage for food in crop stubble difficult.

“Pheasants don’t move very far out of their desired habitat area,” Cain said. “And, if they can’t forage for food they starve.”

He said he’s optimistic that efforts of groups such as Pheasant Forever and programs through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and state of Iowa, will provide wildlife needed habitat protection during future winters.

Cost-sharing

Cain said the Plymouth County Pheasants Forever chapter has been “a very positive group in this respect with what we’ve been able to give back to Plymouth County famers in cost-share chapter funding.

“This makes it possible for producers to create wildlife habitats in native grasses, trees and shrubs,” he said.

Cain said this is a long-term plan with interested producers working with local NRCS personnel to write a plan applicable to their individual farm sites.

These producers request PF’s one-time $100 per acre funding for approved conservation structures – waterways and filter and buffer strips.

Another cost-share program is for seeds, and planting trees and shrubs, providing windbreaks, and establishing native grasses like big blue stem or switch grass.

“Number one in our minds,” Cain said, “is that once a habitat is put into place, pheasants are the beneficiary,” he said. “The habit in essence becomes their house.

“The birds can hunker down in the grasses in their home for better survival.”

Cooperating farmers, Cain said, benefit by improved soil and surface water quality.

“We in Pheasants Forever like to look at what we do as an educational program in many ways,” Cain said. “It’s important that in doing what we do we are helping to maintain the future of our environment for our young people.

“We feel, too, that any time sound conservation is put into practice with the help our funding, the effort triples down, and often in this instance, to the pheasants as well as other wildlife.”

Rob Gray, a state technician for the NRCS office in Le Mars, is working with habitat and additional wildlife conservation planning.

Among the most recent programs, Gray said, is the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement program.

This is a part of the federal Conservation Reserve Program, with 30,000 of the 50,000 acres allocated already enrolled.

“Iowa’s pheasant numbers have not been good for many years now,” Gray said. “There are many people who want to see this changed.

“This is a great program, good for soil and water quality and wildlife. Habitat is the key word for enhancement throughout the state.

Producers are being encouraged that with the absence of a general CRP sign-up in 2014, they may consider the SAFE enrollment as an option, Gray said.

Once all acres are fully enrolled and established, the potential is for newly created upland habitat can produce more than 100,000 additional roosters, Gray said.

“In addition, it just makes good sense to put a conservation practice into these areas with all Iowa residents benefiting,” he said.

Additional program information Gray added is available at local USDA Service Centers across the state or from Pheasants Forever field biologists. Additional program sponsors in addition to Pheasants Forever include the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, USDA; Iowa Farm Service Agency, USDA;, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Iowa Department of Agriculture-Division of Land Stewardship and Iowa’s Conservation Districts and County Conservation Boards.

“I truly believe that the number one reason for pheasant loss and lack of numbers is habitat,” Gray said. “Iowa can have very harsh weather, especially cold winters, and pheasants need quality cover to survive such events.”

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