| "This is an opportunity for stakeholders
to comment on the plan at an early stage," Merchant added.
"We hope their comments will provide us with a broader perspective
of interests, not only from the hunting community but from industry,
tourism and private landowners. In addition, we feel this will
add more credibility to the final plan."
The plan also establishes a goal of increasing the average annual
grouse harvest from 550,000 to 650,000 birds. In peak years,
Minnesota's ruffed grouse harvest exceeds 1.2 million birds.
About 120,000 hunters pursue ruffed grouse in Minnesota, making
it the state's most popular game bird. On average, slightly more
than 100,000 hunters pursue ducks, while pheasant hunters and
Canada goose hunters on average number about 85,000 and 65,000,
There are currently about 11.5 million acres of ruffed grouse
habitat in the state. About 62 percent of that habitat is in
Aspen/birch cover, 12 percent in lowland deciduous shrub, 11
percent in oak, and 8 percent in upland shrub. The remaining
habitat is mixed. About 35 percent of Minnesota's 16.3 million
acres of forestlands are privately owned. The remaining 65 percent
is under federal, state and county or municipal ownership.
After public review and input, the DNR will add pertinent issues
and specific conservation actions to address issues identified
for the next 10 years. Later this year, the DNR will work with
hunters, grouse enthusiasts and others in a series of public
meetings to finalize the plan.
Copies of the draft long-range plan are also available by writing
to: Ruffed Grouse Plan, Minnesota DNR, 500 Lafayette Road Box
20, St. Paul MN 55155-4021, or by calling (651) 259-5204. Written
comments may be submitted to the address above.
Pheasant count is close to last year's
Minnesota's pheasant index remains at its highest level in 20
years, thanks to favorable habitat and nesting con
| ditions in southern and western portions
of the state, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced
The state's pheasant index (113 birds per 100 miles of survey
driven) is 75 percent above the ten-year average, and similar
to 2005 when hunters harvested nearly 600,000 roosters, the most
since 1964, according to results of the annual December roadside
survey of farmland wildlife.
"All the elements are in place for another very good pheasant
hunting season," said Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section
chief. "A mild winter and good weather during this spring's
nesting season allowed birds to take full advantage of more than
1 million acres of grassland habitat enrolled in farm programs
and another 650,000 acres protected in wildlife management areas
and waterfowl production areas."
The best opportunities for harvesting pheasants will likely
be in the southwest, where observers reported 242 birds per 100
miles of survey driven. Good harvest opportunities might also
be found in the central and west central regions, where observers
reported 113 birds per 100 miles driven.
Although winter weather was considered moderate to mild and
spring was favorable for nesting, a spate of cold and wet weather
from June 9 to 11, the peak of Minnesota's pheasant hatch, could
have hampered brood survival, according to Sharon Goetz, DNR
wildlife research biologist. "The adult pheasant index increased
from 2005, which reflects improved winter survival," Goetz
said. "Reproductive success, however, was only average."
The range wide hen index increased 21 percent from 2005 and
varied from 5.2 hens per 100 miles driven in the southeast to
41.2 hens per 100 miles driven in the southwest. The cock index
was up 49 percent compared to 2005. The mourning dove index increased
50 percent while indices for gray partridge, cottontail rabbit,
white-tailed jackrabbit and deer were similar to 2005.
One key to increased pheasant populations is grassland habitat,
| said. Within the state's pheasant range,
protected grasslands account for about 6 percent of the landscape,
the highest number since the mid 1990s. Farm programs make up
the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.
Sign up began in June for the Minnesota CREP II, targeting enrollment
of up to 120,000 new acres of environmentally sensitive cropland
in the Red River, Lower Mississippi, Missouri and Des Moines
river watersheds. Although progress continues on CRP and CREP
II, the expiration of a large proportion of existing CRP contracts
beginning in 2007 is still a major concern for future wildlife
"If Minnesota is to avoid a drastic decline in pheasant
and other farmland wildlife populations, hunters, landowners,
wildlife watchers and conservationists must make the case for
farm programs," Simon said. "CRP, RIM and CREP have
provided great benefits for those who enjoy upland bird hunting
in the agricultural regions of the state."
The DNR is working through the Farm Bill Assistance Program
to expand the habitat base through marketing of farm bill conservation
programs in partnership with Minnesota Board of Water and Soil
Resources, Pheasants Forever, and county Soil and Water Conservation
Districts. Beginning this year, there will be new emphasis on
grassland-wetland complexes through a "Working Lands Initiative"
with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners.
The annual roadside survey, which began in the late 1940s, was
standardized in 1955. DNR conservation officers and wildlife
managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey
during the first two weeks in December. This year's survey consisted
of 170 routes, each 25 miles long, with 151 routes located in
the ring necked pheasant range. Observers drive each route in
early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they
see. The data provide an index of relative abundance and are
used to monitor annual changes and long term trends in populations
of ring necked