Declining participation marks pheasant hunts

Springfield – Some pheasant hunters are looking at the bright
side in 2008 – all the political bickering over DNR’s Controlled
Pheasant Hunting Program this summer at least briefly cast a
spotlight on the game bird.

“People in the state who didn’t even know there were pheasants
here became educated,” Thomas Kinder, of Chicago, said. “Maybe
it’ll help the wild pheasants. Maybe people will donate to
Pheasants Forever or something.”

Pheasants could use the help.

All three summer surveys – May call counts, June Breeding Bird
surveys and August roadside counts – showed declines in the
Illinois pheasant population.

Blame is being placed on above-average snow days and a cool, wet
spring.

Looking back, 35,961 hunters harvested 102,822 pheasants during
the 2007-08 season – a 13- percent decrease from the 2006-07 season
and a 35-percent drop from the average of the last five years.

Hunters spent a total of 177,887 days in the field in 2007, an
increase of 8 percent from 2006, and daily harvest decreased 19
percent from 2006.

This year, pheasant call counts, conducted in May, were 29
percent below those conducted in 2007. That was 20 percent below
the average of the previous five years and 35 percent below the
1975 to 2007 average.

According to John Cole, upland wildlife manger for DNR, counts
were down 36 percent in northern Illinois and down 26 percent in
central Illinois.

Also, the North American Breeding Bird Survey reported a 36
percent decrease in pheasant observations from 2007.

Pheasant brood counts, conducted in August, showed a 29- percent
decrease from last year. Those counts included a 23-percent drop in
northern Illinois and a 19-percent drop in central Illinois.

Cole reported that the proportion of hens with broods decreased
8 percent and the number of chicks per brood decreased 6 percent
from 2007.

Hurting production was cool and wet conditions during the 2008
nesting season, with below average temperatures and above average
rainfall in north and central Illinois.

Pheasant habitat continues to be an issue in the state.
According to Pheasants Forever, federal farm programs have reduced
the acres of nest cover and brood habitat available through the
Acreage Conservation Reserve and Conservation Reserve Programs.
Since 1996, the number of acres of CRP filter strips and field
borders has increased, but the number of CRP fields has declined, a
report by PF revealed.

DNR biologists suggest the most productive areas for pheasant
hunting continue to be in east-central and northern Illinois.

Based on the annual average harvest, some of the top counties
are: Ford, Iroquois, Livingston, McLean, Carroll and Whiteside.

Funding for pheasant habitat continues to be a challenge facing
the state, which manages a number of public hunting sites,
including the Loda Pheasant Habitat Area, a 160-acre tract that was
purchased with revenue generated from the Illinois Habitat Stamp
and the Open Lands Trust Fund. Similar future funding is in doubt
after the state’s recent fund sweep, which aimed to take $250,000
from the Illinois Pheasant Fund.

DNR’s pheasant hunting data on Page 25

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