Wild pheasant sponsor upbeat about Pennsylvania recovery

A Montour County man is helping seed an effort to restore wild ring-necked pheasants to the Pennsylvania landscape, where they haven’t been seen in about 50 years.

As a founding member of Pheasants Forever, Central Susquehanna chapter, Lynn Appelman, 63, of Bloomsburg, has worked with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and other partners on a program that began with the translocation of 1,000 western birds a decade ago and has focused since then on the acquisition and cultivation of new habitat.

Although Wild Pheasant Recovery Area initiatives have failed elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Appelman is heartened by results so far in Montour, Columbia and Northumberland counties.

“Two years after we stopped releasing the birds, we had a native population,” he said. “Flushing surveys and spring crowing counts show a pretty consistent one-to-one ratio of roosters to hens, which is exactly what we wanted.”

Pheasant and grouse biologist Tom Keller of the Pennsylvania Game Commission also is encouraged, calling the central Susquehanna program “a wild success … with fantastic reproduction and survival.”

But he also advised that its future depends on broadening the program geographically. “We need more public and private landowners to recognize how well this can work,” he said. “We need to get more land and create connectivity.”

Much of the Wild Pheasant Recovery Area land is owned by farmers enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which pays them to take environmentally-sensitive property out of production and plant it with resource-friendly vegetation.

While the primary goal is to stem the flow of pollutants to the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay, it also can benefit wildlife.

CREP regulations currently require that a combination of warm-season grasses be planted, but Appelman said his chapter has gotten approval for seed mixes with a high content of switchgrass, a tall perennial that provides ideal pheasant cover, even in winter.

“A few areas in the pheasant program planted primarily with switchgrass were shown to have the greatest density of bird survival,” he said. “We’ve flushed as many as 160 pheasants from a 40-acre switchgrass field.”

With about 4,500 Wild Pheasant Recovery Area acres cultivated so far, the focus now is on attracting new participants, Appelman said. “We’ve established a wild pheasant population, but our success is limited by how many CREP acres we have. The more acres the more pheasants.”

Appelman’s chapter is working with the USDA-Farm Service Agency and other organizations to reach new prospects. “We’re encouraging folks to enroll in CREP, and we make it easier for them to maintain their land,” he said. “Their commitment is 10 to 15 years, and then they can put the land back into farm production.”

Appelman’s fascination with pheasants began in childhood when his father, Harris, took him afield. He hunts today with his English setter, Lilly, and his wirehaired pointing griffon, Camy.

And his interest in birds isn’t limited to pheasants. Appelman is a master falconer, who first trained to hunt with birds of prey when he was 19. He has kept a variety of raptors over the years, including the peregrine falcon he now has.

“When I had goshawks, I would fly them every other day,” he recalled, adding that hunting with raptors over the years helped him to develop an understanding of habitat.

Appelman also targets deer and said crossbow hunting is a newfound passion. “I took up a crossbow four years ago, and I’m loving it,” he said. “I love getting out at that time of year, and may eventually phase out rifle deer.”

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