New law calls for DNR to stock and study wild pheasants in Iowa - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

New law calls for DNR to stock and study wild pheasants in Iowa

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DELAWARE COUNTY (KWWL) -

A new law aims at studying - and ultimately increasing - the pheasant population in Iowa. Governor Terry Branstad put his signature on the plan last week.

The law calls for the Department of Natural Resources to stock wild and first-generation pheasants. It also provides for studies of the changes to the bird's population and of the economic impact of pheasant hunting. Both the House and Senate voted almost unanimously in favor of the plan.

But the measure does not include any funding, and some wildlife enthusiasts aren't too thrilled about the idea of stocking wild birds.

Iowa's Pheasants Forever/Habitat Forever Director of Conservation Matt O'Connor's greatest memories in life tend to be outdoors -- hitting the field with his kids at his side.

"This year they had -- they kidded -- saying they had a great opening day. They saw like, nine pheasants. I didn't have the heart to tell them that that wasn't a good opening day," he recalled.

Since 2007, the Department of Natural Resources has seen Iowa's pheasant population plunge. Todd Bogenschutz, an upland game biologist based in Boone, said up until 2006 hunters were bagging about 900,000 birds a season. This year, he'd be surprised to see hunters take home more than 200,000.

"A lot of it has been the weather. We've had winters that have been off the books and springs and summers that have had more rainfall than we've ever experienced," said O'Connor.

But it's not just the weather -- it's also the habitat. With corn and bean prices climbing, Bogenschutz said farmers are more likely to plant than let their acres go toward the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

"It's not good," said O'Connor. "We continually lose grassland habitat and pheasant habitat."

This year, legislators decided act. But a big part of the new law -- a plan to stock wild birds -- is ruffling some feathers among the folks at Pheasants Forever.

"Stocking is a short-term fix to a long-term problem," said O'Connor.

O'Connor and Bogenschutz prefer to focus their efforts on habitat restoration. Bogenschutz is in the process of lobbying to win funding from the USDA for an additional 50,000 acres of CRP land.

"We want to put our money into long-term habitat that's going to do good for pheasants, make our water quality better, help slow down our soil erosion. We're looking at longer-term fixes to spend our money on," O'Connor said.

And there's the catch -- the legislature did not provide any money with the new law. If the DNR wants to follow through, they'll need outside funding -- and with wild bird stocking in the plan, Pheasants Forever isn't going to get behind the project.

So Bogenschutz said, unless "someone comes forward with deep pockets," the DNR doesn't expect the law to go beyond the statehouse.

Bogenschutz estimates it will cost about $200,000 a year to conduct a long-term study of Iowa's pheasant population. That would include tracking one hundred pheasants over five years -- something they haven't done since a 1990-1994 study.

O'Connor believes it will cost about the same amount to begin stocking wild birds and studying the success of the program.

Members of the Iowa Izaak Walton League lobbied in favor of the law. The bill's sponsor, Representative Richard Arnold (R-Russell), is hoping they, and other wildlife groups, will come forward to fund the measures.

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