The Iowa DNR and Pheasants Forever are working together to make sure upland game birds have a place in the Iowa environment by increasing and improving habitat.
According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the number of pheasant hunters in the state outnumber all other hunters and those hunters have a big impact on Iowa's economy. A recent study indicates that excluding license fees $85 million is spent annually by hunters to hunt pheasants in Iowa.
Todd Bogenschutz: As far as the economic impact, you know, it's huge. If you go back to, oh, the late 90s when we had some 200,000 pheasant hunters the economic impact on the state was, total economic impact was in the $200 million range annually. And so now we're down to 60,000 hunters and so, yeah, it's a really significant impact, it really impacts our rural counties in particular.
This year the annual roadside count that measures the number of pheasants in Iowa showed an increase of 16% over last year's record low estimate. It is the first increase seen in more than six years.
Bogenschutz: Our total nesting habitat, I've tracked it since about 1940 and we're total statewide probably almost the lowest level we've ever seen in the state for potential pheasant habitat. This real drive down in the population has been weather related but certainly when you think about if we have good weather they're not going to be able to get back up to where they were just because we don't have the places for them to live anymore.
Wet weather and tough winters have been major contributors to a decrease in the pheasant population. But a loss of habitat has also played a role. No one can control the weather, but Pheasants Forever and the Iowa DNR have teamed up in an effort to control the loss of habitat.
Jared Wiklund: The partnership itself is based between the two groups and it involves a couple of different things. Number one, it's getting our chapters involved in going out and doing wildlife management area enhancement, so taking our public areas, making them the best that they can be, the best habitat available and showcasing that for others to follow. One other part of this is that the surrounding landowners around here actually do an excellent job at habitat and we want to do our part to add on to that. Whether that is through CRP incentive payments to get people to put more conservation programs on their ground to putting in food plots, this new program is going to allow us to work with surrounding landowners, form a secure core area of wildlife habitat. We're doing great things for water quality. It is just another step in the right direction in Iowa.
Two years ago there were around 60,000 pheasant hunters in the state. Last year that number dropped to 46,000 with a record low 109,000 birds being harvested. This year's increase is both good for pheasant hunters and for the economy.
Bogenschutz: I think hunters should have a pretty easy time finding the spots to pheasant hunt. I think I'd just caution folks that people might sometimes have too high expectation. You know, we can't get back there in just one year. We've got a great start but we actually need probably at least two more years of this kind of weather to get back to what Iowans expect for pheasant hunting.