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Numbers fall by wayside in roadside report

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The particulars of the first-ever Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Opener were released recently. About the same time as news that Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota pheasant hunters will find considerably fewer birds in the field this upcoming pheasant opener/season.

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According to the DNR, a severe winter followed by a wet spring contributed to a significant decline in Minnesota’s pheasant counts — to the tune of a population index declined of 64 percent from 2010, 71 percent below the 10-year average.

Contributing factors, according to the DNR, include:

• A second consecutive severe winter, resulting in hen counts 72 percent below the 10-year average.

• Cold, wet weather during the April through June nesting period, resulting in brood counts 75 percent below the 10-year average.

• Loss of nearly 120,000 acres of grass habitat enrolled in farm programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program since 2007.

Severe winters combined with cold, wet springs are doubly hard on pheasant populations. That’s because fewer hens survive the winter and those that do are less successful in producing broods.     

Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 250,000 roosters this fall, the lowest harvest since 1997. This compares to harvests that have exceeded 500,000 roosters five of the last eight years. The 500,000 bird harvests correspond with a string of mild winters and high CRP enrollment. 

The highest pheasant counts were in the east central region, where observers reported 51 birds per 100 miles of survey driven. Hunters will find fair harvest opportunities in pockets of south central and southwest Minnesota, which is decent news for the first 

Governor’s Pheasant Opener — it will be in the Montevideo area in southwestern Minnesota — but harvest opportunities in most of Minnesota’s pheasant range are rated poor to very poor, the DNR said. The state pheasant season opens along with the Governor’s Pheasant Opener on Oct. 15.

The gray partridge index was similar to last year but 75 percent below the 10-year average, the cottontail rabbit index also was below the 10-year and long-term average, the jackrabbit index was 96 percent below the long-term average and the mourning dove index was 26 percent below last year and 29 percent below the 10-year average.

This year’s statewide pheasant index was 23 birds per 100 miles driven, the lowest index since 1986. The pheasant index in southwest Minnesota, typically the state’s best pheasant range, fell 82 percent from last year to 19 birds per 100 miles driven.

The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR’s annual roadside wildlife survey. The survey summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours during the first half of August throughout the farmland region of Minnesota.

The August roadside survey, which began in the late 1940s, was standardized in 1955. DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first half of August. This year’s survey consisted of 166 routes, each 25 miles long, with 148 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range.

Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see. The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long-term trends in populations of ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white tailed jackrabbits and other select wildlife species.

The 2011 August Roadside Report and pheasant hunting prospects map may be viewed and downloaded from http://mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasant.

BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at brian.peterson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/brian_speterson. For his blogs, go to www.brainerddispatch.com.

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Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson joined the Brainerd Dispatch in April 2010 and works as a online reporter, content editor and staff writer. She is a world traveler, accused idealist and California native now braving the winters of Central Minnesota. She believes in the power of human resolve and hopes to be part of something that makes history by bringing an end to injustice in the world. Sarah has worked as a criminal background researcher, high school civics teacher, grant writer, and contributing writer with Causecast.org — tackling every issue from global poverty to bio-degradable bicycles. Her favorite thing about living in Minnesota is July. Sarah left the Brainerd Dispatch in April 2014.
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