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Habitat key in pheasant opener

October 17, 2012 - A mild winter coupled with a favorable spring nesting conditions could lead to an expected increase in pheasant populations in Michigan, at least areas where good amounts of quality habitat exist, says Ben Wickerham, Pheasants Forever's regional representative in Michigan.

At 10 a.m., Oct. 20 the pheasant season opens for most of southern Michigan including Atlas, Brandon and Groveland townships. And while Wickerham remains optimistic about the upcoming season, which concludes Nov.14, some experts are less encouraging with regard to hunter success.

Julie Oakes, Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologist for the Genesee, Oakland and Lapeer County area, said there are pockets of areas pheasants.

"Even 15 years ago there were more pheasants than now," she said. "We do have some hunters heading out, but most of the birds (pheasants) are on private land—the key to bringing the birds back to respectable numbers. The DNR now has a biologist that will work with private land owners to establish habitat for pheasants. It's not just for hunting—pheasants have been a big part of the local wildlife for years. But right now they just are not around. Some say the increase in population of coyotes in recent years has been the demise of the pheasants. However, I'm convinced their populations decreased years ago."

Patrick Okopny, president of the Genesee Chapter of Pheasants Forever, will not hunt opening day; however, he remains confident pheasant numbers can return.

"The biggest reason for the decline in pheasants is the changing of farming practices," said Okopny.

"The expansion of housing areas and changes in the urban areas have impacted the habitat of pheasant. In the 1960s there were plenty of fence rows that incorporated cover for pheasants. All that changed over the last 30 years. Today, the farmers in the area use the ground right up to the road and fence rows—the ditches are cleared of cover and other growth. The cover pheasants need is gone, it's now hard for them to nest and raise young. Pheasant need grasses about 18 to 24 inches high—there's just not too much of that in Atlas Township like there was 30 years ago."

Okopny said one of the goals to help bring pheasants back is to restore some of the needed habitat.

The DNR is partners with Pheasants Forever and other conservation organizations to facilitate a revitalization of Michigan pheasants.

The DNR staff will provide advice and assistance on habitat prescriptions and project partners will aid in securing seed for grass planting and federal resources to provide financial incentives for participating landowners. Also, for land that meets habitat restoration objectives, the DNR may provide seed and/or materials for planting, the use of equipment, and in some cases, the release of wild pheasants to initiate population response.

For details of the Pheasant Restoration Initiative, landowners contact DNR Upland Game Bird Specialist Al Stewart (stewarta1@michigan.gov) or DNR Private Lands Coordinator Mark Sargent (sargentm@michigan.gov).

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