Iowa Pheasant Numbers Still Down - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Iowa Pheasant Numbers Still Down

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Pheasant hunting has been a long standing tradition in Iowa for decades. However, the seasons have been rough recently because the pheasants are fading and taking hunters with them.

"Nothing here," said Iowa Conservation Officer, Jeff Harrison, while looking for pheasants.

Harrison say spotting a pheasant recently has been rare, a stark contrast compared to years ago.

 "Five years ago when we walked up to a brush pile like this, I would have put money on that we would have seen pheasants here," he said.

However, Harrison and hunters are not placing any bets. Surveys by the Iowa DNR show that the pheasant population in 2012 was the second lowest on record. It was around 80 percent below the average over the past four decades, which has led to a decline in the number of hunters out hunting pheasants.

Harrison says that is troublesome for many reasons, including tourism. The Iowa hunting industry generates 359 million dollars a year. Part of that money, 23.4 million, goes to local and state taxes and supports 6,000 full time jobs in the state. Harrison says 75 percent of "out of state hunters" travel to Iowa just for pheasant season.

"When I started in 2004 the numbers were pretty high, we would got out opening week and check between 100 to 150 hunters on opening day, and most all of those hunters would have their limit of 3 birds. A lot of them would come, it's a family tradition, they would get hotels, you would have take vacations based on coming back to do the pheasant opener."

 He says a big reason for the change is lack of habitat. The kind of place pheasants need to thrive includes prairie grass with lots of cover, it also can't be too wet. However, Harrison says a lot of land like that has been turned into farm ground. Even fence rows that offer some cover, have been taken out to plant another row of crops.

"A lot of it is row cropping, they'll take out a drainage ditch, they'll take out a fence row, put some more row crops in, removing that habitat."

He says the DNR and other private groups have been working together to buy land or maintain existing ground, to try and bring Iowa pheasant hunting back to its former glory.

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