MI: Pheasant initiative takes root

St. Johns, Mich. – On a sunny, windswept day at the Maple River
State Game Area in Clinton County, the highly anticipated Michigan
Pheasant Restoration Initiative officially began.

Dignitaries from several local conservation organizations and
state agencies gathered last month at central Michigan’s largest
continual section of public land for the ceremonial planting of the
first field.

Following a few brief speeches, a spreader was loaded with
switchgrass seed, which was scattered across the landscape.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us and I feel very strongly
about it, but we are only a partner,” DNR Wildlife Division Chief
Russ Mason told those gathered for the planting. “This is a great
program.

“We’ve lost 50 percent of our small-game hunters in the last 10
years. If we want to make a difference in recruitment and retention
we will make it through small game. It’s an easy sell and I’m
excited about what we can do on public land, but also what we can
do on private land.”

The switchgrass planting at Maple River occurred on part of a
105-acre demonstration area. Switchgrass was planted on 28 acres,
food plots for winter food on 10 acres, and nesting cover on the
remaining 67 acres.

The goal of the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative is to
create sustainable pheasant habitat – nesting cover, escape cover
and food, and winter cover. With quality habitat, pheasant numbers
will rebound.

The big difference between this initiative and past habitat
restoration projects is that the MPRI will take place on a broad
landscape scale on both public and private land. The intent is to
create co-ops and get several landowners, both public and private,
to work together on a plan that covers a wide section of the
landscape.

Rather than individuals and small groups restoring habitat on
scattered 40-acre parcels, the MPRI seeks to restore habitat on a
much larger scale. The goal is to restore pheasant habitat on 15 to
30 percent of the landscape within the targeted pheasant recovery
areas, utilizing both private and public land where available.

“We need to get grass-roots initiatives started and get grass on
the ground,” Al Stewart, DNR game bird specialist, told Michigan
Outdoor News in a phone interview. “The Maple River (demonstration
area) is very important because we want to show our partners in the
cooperative that we are willing to get the program started on state
land, to show others what we can do through a cooperative. We
certainly would like to see cooperatives established on private
land surrounding public land projects.”

To get the program off the ground, three pilot Pheasant Recovery
Areas have been identified: Gratiot, Saginaw, and Clinton counties;
Huron, Sanilac, and Tuscola counties; and Hillsdale, Lenawee, and
Monroe counties. The goal is to encourage a group of property
owners in these areas to agree to work together to improve pheasant
and small-game habitat on their collective acreages. They’ll be
assisted by the groups and individuals involved in the
initiative.

“I would encourage everyone to talk to landowners in their area
to join in a cooperative,” DNR Director Rodney Stokes told the
crowd gathered at the Maple River SGA. “We can bring pheasants
back. We can do better.”

The long-range goal of the MPRI is to create 200 or so
10,000-acre Pheasant Recovery Areas in the state, or approximately
2 million acres in the program. That effort got under way with the
planting of switchgrass at the Maple River SGA and similar
plantings at the Verona SGA in Huron County.

The DNR is partnering with Pheasants Forever, Michigan United
Conservation Clubs, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey
Federation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Michigan
Department of Agriculture, local soil conservation districts, and
other conservation organizations to facilitate a revitalization of
pheasants in Michigan. This initiative has the potential to change
small-game hunting opportunities, increase wildlife populations,
improve hunter satisfaction, and help Michigan’s economy.

To join or learn more about the MPRI, contact Al Stewart at
stewartal@michigan.gov; or Mark Sargent, DNR private lands
coordinator, at sargentm@michigan.gov.

For participating co-ops, DNR staff will provide advice and
assistance on habitat prescriptions; project partners will aid in
securing seed for grass plantings; and federal resources may
provide financial assistance for participating landowners.

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