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DNR: Big drop in Minnesota pheasant population

North Dakota Game and Fish Department photo

Minnesota's pheasant population index dropped 64 percent from 2010, according to a Department of Natural Resources report released Tuesday.

This year's statewide pheasant index was 23 birds per 100 miles driven, the lowest index since 1986 and 71 percent below the 10-year average, according to the agency. The pheasant index in southwest Minnesota, typically the state's best pheasant range, fell 82 percent from last year to 19 birds per 100 miles driven.

Wildlife officials say contributing factors include:

--A second consecutive severe winter, resulting in hen counts 72 percent below the 10-year average.

--Cold, wet weather during the April through June nesting period, resulting in brood counts 75 percent below the 10-year average.

--Loss of nearly 120,000 acres of grass habitat enrolled in farm programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program since 2007.

Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 250,000 roosters this fall, the lowest harvest since 1997. This compares to harvests that have exceeded

500,000 roosters five of the past eight years. The 500,000-bird harvests correspond with a string of mild winters and high CRP enrollment, DNR officials say.

Minnesota is not the only state to see pheasant index declines. Wildlife officials in South Dakota reported a 46 percent population index decline.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.