- Associated Press - Saturday, September 6, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa’s pheasant population has rebounded, with the latest annual count of the birds showing the highest numbers since 2008, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

This year’s count found a statewide average of 17.4 birds per 30-mile route, the highest since 2008’s 18 birds per route, The Des Moines Register reported (https://dmreg.co/1wczgLs ) Saturday.

Department officials travel 210 routes each August to conduct the count, which is possible because pheasant hens and their broods leave dew-covered grasses to dry off before feeding.

In some regions, this year’s counts were up by more than 200 percent over the previous year.

State officials and hunters hope the numbers signal the beginning of an upward trend that will at least partially restore a sport that once generated a $200 million economic impact in the Hawkeye State. In 1997, an estimated 205,000 pheasant hunters spent $80.3 million in Iowa. By 2010, that had fallen to about 60,000 hunters spending $24.1 million.

“I haven’t even gone pheasant hunting the last couple of years, because the birds just weren’t there,” Tim Wolf, a 61-year-old bank president who lives in Waukee, told the newspaper. “But I’ve been driving the roads and seeing so many birds, I just about had to go into the ditch to avoid them. I’ll be out there opening day.”

As promising as the new pheasant numbers are, they still don’t come close to those seen in the 1970s, when hunters harvested nearly 1.6 million roosters. As recently as 1996, hunters took more than 1.2 million of the birds, but the population and harvest have fallen every year since, bottoming out at an estimated 109,000 roosters harvested in 2011.

Experts blame the drop on a spate of harsh winters and years of drought. They also say pheasant habitat has shrunk as farmers have expanded cropland.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimates prime habitat for pheasants fell from 3.8 million acres in 2007 to 2.8 million this year.

The department is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve habitat, with the state receiving a $1.5 million grant this year to develop pheasant and quail habitat on private land. The department also received a $3 million grant this year from the Iowa Habitat Access Program to expand public hunting access on private land.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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