Making room for pheasants on our landscape

How we are going to find space for pheasants and the habitat they need was the focus of the Governor’s Pheasant Summit held Saturday in Marshall.

MARSHALL – How much grass is needed on the landscape to produce the pheasant numbers we want?

It depends on the quality of that habitat, and where we place it.

If done right, a landscape with 25 to 30 percent devoted to grass will provide the “best bang for our buck,’’ according to Nicole Davros, a wildlife biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource.

Davros spoke last weekend at the Governor’s Pheasant Summer. She is part of the DNR’s Farmland Wildlife Research Group. Her research focuses on pheasants and grassland habitat management and agricultural land use practices.

“We’re not asking to put grass everywhere,’’ said Davros. “We’re just asking for a small piece of it.’’

A hand carved pheasant head atop a walking stick presented to Governor Mark Dayton at the Pheasant Summit.

She said research by Kurt Haroldson, associate regional manager with the DNR in New Ulm, and others has shown a direct relationship between bird numbers and the amount of habitat. A landscape with five percent of the area devoted to grassland will produce about 30 birds per square mile.

A landscape with 25 percent of the area to grass will produce five times as many pheasants, or about 160 birds.

The best benefits are realized when there is a mosaic of habitat types on a landscape.  Providing a mix of wetlands, buffer and filter strips and protected prairie that can meet the nesting and winter cover needs of pheasants works better than simply plunking a 40-acre grassland in the middle of row-crop acres.

Nesting and winter cover areas are crucial. For nesting, pheasants need a grass area that remains undisturbed for six weeks. It provides the hen the time needed to lay and incubate the eggs.

Quality matters: An area offering brood cover will ideally include forbs mixed with grasses. The forbs provide an understory where chicks can feed on insects and scurry to mom when there’s danger.

Winter cover must provide protection from the elements and access to food. Pheasants do not have feathered legs or other adaptations that allow native species such as grouse to survive a Minnesota winter. Pheasants need thermal cover- such as provided by cattail sloughs- to stay warm when winter is at its worst.

Winter cover should also be large enough so that it does not drift in completely with snow.

Winter cover should be in proximity to food for one simple reason.

“In winter, if birds move more than half a mile they’ve moved pretty far,’’ said Davros.

Davros cautioned against any type of woody cover. While a shelter belt can offer some winter cover, trees provide a place for raptors to perch and for raccoons to gain a view of where their next meal will be found.

Pheasant numbers are declining in Minnesota as Conservation Reserve Program acres are returned to row crop production. The state has lost 490,000 acres of grassland since 2007 due to non-renewals of CRP contracts, according to information from the DNR.

Minnesota’s pheasant harvest fell to 169,000 roosters last year, compared to 655,000 harvested in 2007.

“We know that what is happening to our pheasant population is also happening to our other grassland wildlife,’’ said Davros of the consequences of habitat loss. While pheasants are a non-native species, Davros said she has no hesitation in defending the importance of providing the habitat they need.

“(When) we’re working for habitat conservation for pheasants, we know we are protecting all the other wildlife that use our grasslands,’’ she said.

Providing habitat for pheasants is also about protecting our hunting heritage, and giving young people an opportunity enjoy the outdoors.

Will Pheasant Summit be the turning point to reverse decline in birds, habitat?

Minnesota’s first-ever pheasant summit will focus on ways to get more grasslands back on the landscape.

At the start of this year’s pheasant season, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources projected that hunters would harvest 224,000 birds.

That’s about half the number of birds that were taken each season from 2005 to 2008. Harvest numbers have continued to decline since 2006 and no surprise, so has the number of pheasant hunters. Last year the DNR estimated that about 56,000 license holders pursued pheasants, while there were 74,668 pheasant stamps sold.

The hope now is to come up with a game plan to reverse this trend. Everyone realizes that it will require bringing back more grassland habitat to Minnesota’s agricultural areas.

Just how to do that is the challenge participants in the state’s first ever Pheasant Summit will take up on Saturday, December 13 on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall.

Governor Mark Dayton called for the summit. It follows a similar summit held earlier this year in South Dakota, also with the intentions of addressing the declining numbers of pheasants and the habitat to support them.

Minnesota hunters have seen a decline in harvest numbers since 2006.

There will be a lot of voices at the table in Marshall, according to Mike Tenney, prairie habit leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The DNR and Pheasants Forever are teamed up to sponsor the event. They put out an open invitation for everyone with an interest in the outdoors, and made an extra effort to encourage representatives of agricultural and commodity groups to participate.

“We know they are going to need to be part of the answer so they need to be at the table,’’ said Tenney.

Anyone interested in attending could register for free on line. Those visiting the site could also participate in an on-line survey. Over 700 people did so. No surprises by what the survey showed. There is a strong desire for more places to hunt, concern over the lack of pheasants, and awareness that more habitat is needed.

Tenney said the Conservation Reserve Program model of the late 1980’s is not going to return. Nobody wants an agricultural economy that can’t make it on its own and relies on retiring land to survive.

He said hunters and others who appreciate our outdoor heritage and wildlife must find new ways to work with agriculture to get more grass on the landscape.

It’s all about habitat. “That’s really what we’re talking about, habitat,’’ said Tenney. “More diverse grasslands, more pheasants. It basically comes down to that.’’

As pheasant numbers have declined, so too have the number of those who pursue them and experience the excitement of a flushed bird.

Late to leave Canada, geese skipping autumn stop at snow-covered Lac qui Parle refuge

 

 

With a landscape of snow and cold, we’ve become fly-over land for migrating geese this year.

This November is already in the record books for its early and prolonged cold snap that is accompanied by as much as a foot of snow in some areas.

And no surprise, this season is likely to make the record books at the Lac qui Parle refuge too.

It’s looking like the 2014 goose season will be a bust.

The season continues until December 30, but it’s already obvious. The majority of the geese has flown by and is now somewhere south of the snow line.

Dave Trauba, refuge manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said this season appears to be a true, worst case scenario. The Eastern Prairie Population geese that primarily use the refuge stayed in Canada much later into the season than ever before. When the door slammed shut there, they just flew right over this area due to the snow and cold of our early, winter landscape.

In years past it was not unusual to count 100,000 geese in the refuge at the peak of the migration. This year’s best count was 7,000. That was the number counted on November 7, when the refuge manager noted that the vast majority of the migratory geese were still holding in Canada. Four days later, he jotted down that the geese had left Canada and had continued on to points south of Minnesota.

In previous years, as many as 100,000 geese could be counted at the peak of the migration. That’s not the case this year. It appears a count of 7,000 on Nov. 7 will be the peak.

We may see more years like this. There’s been a definite trend for geese to remain longer in Canada. It’s a changed landscape in Canada. Seed genetics and other technology improvements in agriculture have moved soybean and other crop production farther north. The geese are finding the field pickings in Canada that they used to find here.

By the time they do leave Canada, we’re already moving into winter with cold and snow. Geese will tolerate the cold better than you might think, but not the snow. When it covers the fields it prevents them from reaching their food.

There’s still some hope geese may arrive at the refuge, but it’s worth calling ahead at 320-734-4451 to find out before making the trip.

Others are already making the trip to Lac qui Parle for ice fishing. On Wednesday, the refuge manager could count 14 ice fishing houses on the lake already, and he was certain many more would be arriving by the weekend.

On the up side, the early winter means an early start to ice fishing.

Deer harvest down statewide, but area hunters see some success on opener

 

Hunters are not expected to match the success of last year, but there have been reports of some nice bucks taken in northern Kandiyohi County.

NEW LONDON — Firearm hunters registered 54,000 deer during the first three days of the season, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported on Wednesday.

That’s 30,000 fewer deer than were registered during last year’s season at this time.

Counting the deer taken by archery and in special hunts, a total of 67,000 have been taken, as compared to 100,000 last year.

The lower harvest is by design, according to Leslie McInenly DNR big game leader. This year’s regulations greatly limited the number of does that could be harvested.

Hunters in parts of Kandiyohi County are probably doing better than their counterparts elsewhere, although harvest numbers are not yet available.

Cory Netland, wildlife manager, and Jeff Miller, assistant wildlife manager, reported that the opening of the firearm season saw average hunter pressure in the area including Kandiyohi, Meeker and Chippewa counties.

Miller said checks with registration stations in the area indicated that the harvest was going well in the lottery permit areas.

Netland said he’s heard of some nice eight- to 12-point bucks taken in the northern part of Kandiyohi County. Some were chasing does, suggesting that the hunt is occurring while the rut is on.

Netland

Farmers have also harvested the vast majority of the corn crop, which also improves the odds for hunter success.

The new blanket to snow and January-like temperatures may reduce hunter pressure during the remainder of the season. Netland said bundling up and getting back in the field is worth it. The snow and cold will not hamper deer movement, he said.

Dennis Haaland left his signature on wildlife lands throughout Southwestern Minnesota; friends have now put his name up for all to know

During his lifetime, Dennis Haaland left his signature on wildlife lands throughout Southwestern Minnesota through his work to improve habitat and create wildlife management areas.

“A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke [of the axe] he is writing his signature on the face of the land.”  – Aldo Leopold

A conservationist true to the spirit of Aldo Leopold, Dennis Haaland left his signature on a lot of land in southwestern Minnesota during his lifetime.

He and his wife Mary Jo raised two sons on a small farm west of Clarkfield in the center of Yellow Medicine County. He is remembered as an avid hunter, an athletic director and teacher in the Clarkfield Schools who inspired young people, a small farmer who cared about the soil, and devoted parent and husband.

His passion to work on projects to protect and enhance wildlife habitat will likely be his most lasting legacy.  He recruited fellow hunters, farmers, and anyone with an interest in the outdoors to work on projects to improve habitat. They’d work on weekends to improve wildlife management lands, or to plant wind breaks and winter cover for wildlife on farm lands.  He organized farmers along a ditch in Yellow Medicine County and together they planted a four-mile long buffer strip on both sides to provide pheasant habitat.

And year after year, he’d get people together to raise the funds and convince private and public organizations to acquire land for wildlife management areas.

Dennis Haaland loved to hunt pheasants, waterfowl and turkey, but always gave back more than he took.

He was a charter member of the East Medicine Chapter of Pheasants Forever in Yellow Medicine County, and helped revive the chapter when it hit tough times not too many years ago.

He died October 18, 2010 doing what he loved most. He was on a pheasant and waterfowl hunting trip near Britton, S.D., when his heart suddenly failed him at age 73.

Friends immediately realized it was now their job to carry on his work. They made it their goal to acquire land and create a Wildlife Management Area in memory of Haaland, according to Stan Santjer, president of the East Medicine chapter of Pheasants Forever. The idea “came up very quickly’’ in the wake of Haaland’s passing, he said.

The 80-acre, Dennis Haaland Wildlife Management Area was formally dedicated on Saturday. A prairie wind whipped the long grasses as family and friends gathered to do the honors. A rooster pheasant flushed from the grasses as the short ceremony got underway. It was taken as a sign.

“He would have been thrilled,’’ said Mary Jo Haaland of how her late husband would have reacted to the idea that a Wildlife Management Area would be dedicated in his name.

The site is located along Spring Creek about a 15-minute drive southwest of Clarkfield on County Road 3. When purchased, it included about 23 acres of wetland and lowlands along the creek, 20 acres of grass lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, and 37 acres of cropped land. Pheasants Forever contracted with Habitat Forever to seed native prairie on the tilled acres.

Dennis Haaland knew the value of protecting our wildlife lands for future generations.

The East Medicine chapter donated funds towards acquiring the land, but knew it did not have the resources to take on the whole project. Just like Haaland had done so often, the chapter reached out to others to make the acquisition possible. A sign at the Dennis Haaland WMA holds the names of the individuals and organizations that contributed towards the project. Funds from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage also played a big role in making it all possible, according to Santjer.

He was among those who lauded Haaland’s passion for the outdoors and especially, his drive to get things done. Santjer figures that Haaland knew better than most of us that our time here is short, and consequently made the most of it.

Mary Jo Haaland said her late husband’s love for hunting and conservation came from growing up on a farm.

He cared deeply about protecting the soil, and often showed visitors the fence-line that he refused to plow down on his own farm.  It stood two or more feet higher than the cropped fields, making obvious the topsoil lost to erosion.

Friends knew him as a person of strong convictions when it came to conservation, and as someone who could sit down and explain the reasons for his convictions with anyone.

He was always willing to introduce others to hunting and the outdoors, and served often as a mentor to people of all ages, said Santjer.

Dr. Roger Harms, M.D., Rochester, was among those with Haaland on his last hunting trip. Harms credits Haaland with introducing him to pheasant hunting in southwestern Minnesota, and something more.

His friend showed him how a life lived enjoying the outdoors can be greatly enriched by assuring the future of those resources for others, Harms wrote in a tribute. Haaland has made possible many places in southwestern Minnesota “to make sure that his children and grandchildren and the citizens of Minnesota would have the places available that put us in awe of the Creator,” Harms wrote.

“Today, we dedicate acres of land that will forever be one of those places. That it bears the name of Dennis Haaland is a reflection of the beauty and goodness that a person can achieve in a lifetime and stands as an example to us all,’’ he concluded.

 

Mary Jo Haaland and son, Corey Haaland were among those who helped dedicate the new Wildlife Management Area in memory of her late husband.