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N.D. spring pheasant count increases

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Stan Kohn2 / 2

North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, the Game and Fish Department reported this week.

According to Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for Game and Fish in Bismarck, results from the department’s spring crowing count survey indicate the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up about 6 percent statewide from 2013, with increases ranging from about 2 percent to 9 percent depending on the region.

The spring number is a positive indicator, Kohn said, but it does not predict fall pheasant numbers. Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by September, will provide a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population, Kohn said.

Last year, the fall pheasant population was down from 2012 because of rather poor production, but Kohn said low winter mortality, particularly in the southern one-third of the state, helped boost this year’s spring count.

Another positive is that abundant moisture has provided for good habitat conditions heading into the prime nesting period. On the downside, Kohn said that since 2008, North Dakota has lost more than 2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, much of it in pheasant range. That means total nesting habitat in the state is significantly reduced from where it was when the spring crowing count index peaked in 2008.

The 2014 index is down about one-third from that peak.

“Loss of CRP acres continues to reduce the amount of nesting and brood-rearing habitat on the landscape,” Kohn said. “This and other grassland conversion is going to negatively affect our pheasant population in the future.”

Game and Fish conducts pheasant crowing counts each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop.

The number of pheasant crows heard then is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.

Nomsen to lead

S.D. PF office

Pheasants Forever is opening its first regional headquarters office in Brookings, S.D., this month and has selected Dave Nomsen to be the conservation group’s point person in the state.

Nomsen is Pheasants Forever’s longtime vice president of government affairs, and his move to South Dakota comes as the organization ramps up efforts to address substantial habitat losses and land use changes in the state, which have resulted in a dramatic decline in pheasant numbers.

“South Dakota is the epicenter of pheasants in the United States. Unfortunately, South Dakota is also the epicenter of grassland habitat loss,” Howard Vincent, Pheasants Forever’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

According to a 2012 South Dakota State University study, 451,000 acres of South Dakota grasslands were converted to agricultural production from 2006 to 2011. In 2013, the South Dakota Game Fish & Parks annual pheasant index showed a 64 percent drop in bird numbers, the result of habitat loss coupled with poor weather conditions during nesting season.

“Dave has a 30-year track record of conservation victories,” Vincent said. “He’s a former South Dakota resident, graduate of South Dakota State University and served on the faculty of SDSU’s Wildlife Department. He’s moving to South Dakota because we need to reverse the habitat decline there and he’s the perfect guy for the job.”

Nomsen said South Dakota’s pheasant traditions are at risk because of that habitat loss.

“Pheasants are such an important part of the state’s culture that there is a rooster pheasant flying over Mount Rushmore on the commemorative South Dakota quarter,” Nomsen said. “We intend to work with landowners, hunters and our partners to help ensure South Dakota remains the pheasant capital of the world.”