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State pheasant index down 26 percent from last year

Sam Cook / Forum News Service file photo Pheasant hunters push through a grassland in Lac qui Parle County early on Oct. 10, 2015, opening day of Minnesota's pheasant season. Minnesota’s pheasant index has declined 26 percent compared to last year, according to the August roadside counts conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

ST. PAUL — Minnesota's pheasant index has declined 26 percent compared to last year, according to the August roadside counts conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The loss of habitat in the farmland regions is cited as the biggest concern.

"There has been a steady decline in undisturbed nesting cover since the mid-2000s, and our pheasant population has declined as a result," said Nicole Davros, the DNR research scientist who oversees the annual August roadside survey that monitors pheasant population trends. "Although it appeared mild winter weather and dry summer weather might boost our numbers, that wasn't the case."

The 2017 pheasant index is 32 percent below the 10-year average and 62 percent below the long-term average.

Minnesota has lost about 686,800 acres of Conservation Reserve Program acres statewide since 2007. The program, covered under the federal Farm Bill, pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and restore vegetation that will reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

The DNR's August roadside survey for pheasants showed a 26 percent decrease in the overall pheasant index from 2016. This year's statewide pheasant index was 38.1 birds per 100 miles of roads driven.

All regions had declines in the pheasant index compared to last year except the south-central and southeast regions, which remained similar. The highest pheasant counts were in the west central, southwest and south-central regions where observers reported 43 to 55 birds per 100 miles driven. Hunters should find the best hunting opportunities in these regions.

Minnesota's 2017 pheasant season runs from Saturday, Oct. 14, through Monday, Jan. 1.

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