Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announced Monday that his state will spend $100 million in an effort to improve pheasant habitat and increase population numbers. The goal is to reverse the trends of declining bird and bird hunter numbers, while improving water quality and grassland habitat.
The move comes as part of Minnesota’s overall efforts to improve the environment. Pheasants require grasslands with bordering shelter, both of which help retain soil and prevent erosion. Agricultural locations where pheasants presently live have the worst water quality of any area in the state. Only one of ninety-three stream sections studied in southwest Minnesota was deemed safe for human recreation, according to AgriNews.
The ideal conditions for pheasants also benefit monarch butterflies, pollinators, and other birds that make their homes on the grasslands.
Increasing pheasant numbers is also financially beneficial. Hunters spend an average of $1.32 billion each year in the state. With increased hunting opportunities, that amount could grow substantially, justifying the $100 million price tag.
Hunting in Minnesota has declined along with national averages, with 270,000 Minnesotan hunters in 1961 to less than 58,000 in 2014. Pheasant numbers themselves have done likewise: AgriNews puts the 2014 bird total at 40.7 birds per 100 miles—85 percent below 1955-64’s benchmark years.
The issue is exacerbated by the loss of Conservation Reserve Program lands. CRP participation pays farmers to take less-productive cropland out of rotation, providing needed habitat for wildlife. More than 500,000 acres are set to expire from the program over the next five years, though an upcoming enrollment period may offset some of the acreage loss.
Of the current pheasant range in Minnesota, 95 percent of the habitat lies on private acreage like farms. Educating the public and maximizing the available habitat will be vital for Dayton’s proposal to work.
The conservation funds will be spent as part of a ten-point action plan on a four-year timetable. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was given the following goals:
• Target habitat efforts
• More habitat on private lands
• Education and marketing
• More public lands
• Buffer strips
• Better roadside habitat
• Maintain walk-in access
• Expand citizen education
• More habitat research
The goals were set following a “Pheasant Summit,” held in December 2014; 250 people met in Marshall, Minnesota, to offer input on ways to improve pheasant habitat in the state.