A severe winter followed by a wet spring contributed to a significant decline in Iowa's pheasant counts. Where have you read this before? Right here ... that's where. This is the fourth bad year in a row, now ... and the reasons are all the same. The Department of Natural Resource's rule of thumb is that it requires three good years to overcome the effects of one bad year. And we've had four in a row.
I talked to Todd Bogenschutz Tuesday morning (who is DNR's director of both upland game and non-game species) at some length and he advised me that the pheasant population index for the Spirit Lake area declined 63 percent from 2010 and is 71 percent below the 10-year average. The central Iowa area is down more than 12 percent; the northern and northeastern region is down about 39 and a half percent.
The August road count was not good news. Contributing factors include a fourth 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 and loss of nearly 37,000 acres of grass habitat enrolled in farm programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program since 2007.
The good news is that some 45,000 new enrollments took place, which added an additional 8,000 for the future. The surveys indicate an unusually low ration of hens to roosters. This suggests hen mortality was high or hens were nesting or caring for young broods during the survey. If the late nesting effort was greater than normal, the 2011 pheasant population can rebound quickly given good habitat, mild winter weather and favorable spring nesting conditions.
Iowa is not the only state to see pheasant index declines. South Dakota reported a 46 percent decline, and Minnesota reported a whopping 64 percent decline. Some of the highest pheasant counts of the surveys were here in the central Iowa area. Bogenschutz said the most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season. Protected grasslands account for a major percentage of the state's pheasant range. Farmland retirement programs such as CRP, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, and Wetlands Reserve Program make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state. High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs.
During the next three years, contracts for thousands of acres of CRP lands are scheduled to expire. If not re-enrolled this would vastly reduce Iowa's CRP acres. Wide, weedy and brush fence rows that I once knew as a kid do not exist any more. Actually ... the fence row itself often does not exist anymore. The surge for ethanol coupled with the price per bushel for corn and beans has forced farmers to widen their fields from fence row to fence row to ditch to ditch.
The bottom line is that when you eliminate the habitat, you eliminate wildlife in general and pheasants in particular. No matter how you slice the pie; no matter how you butter the bread; and no matter what the reason or excuse is ... without habitat, there won't be any pheasants. And you can take that to the bank.
Iowa's deer herd clean of fatal disease - Test results are negative for the chronic wasting disease in Iowa's deer herd according to Iowa's DNR. Tissue samples collected from more than 4,700 deer in 2010 and this year were all negative for the neurological disease that can be fatal to deer, according to the Iowa DNR. Since 2003, Iowa has tested over 38,000 wild deer and more than 1,300 captive deer and elk. All tests have proven to have been negative.
Beyond Iowa - As if anyone needed any confirmation the last three winters were not on the mild side, a formula classifying winter severity based on ambient temperatures and snow depth says it's been well beyond severe in the upper Midwest states.
Brian Schaffer, a University of South Dakota graduate student conducted a white-tailed deer study on how cold temperatures affect deer. Using the formula, a winter severity index of 50 or less is considered a mild winter, explained North Dakota Game and Fish Department game biologist Bill Jensen. If the rating is 100 or more, it's considered a severe winter. Based on the formula, Jensen said he calculated a 2009 winter severity index of 194, 166 in 2010, and 215 in 2011 for the upper Midwest states.
"So they had (deer in the study area) three hard winters," he said. The formula allows biologists to correlate weather with mortality. Based on the winter's severity, biologists were surprised to learn that up until January of 2011 the only mortality among any of the radio-collared and ear-tagged does, bucks and fawns was human-caused, either hunting or vehicle collisions.
And now ... have a good weekend.