Offer to help declining pheasant population criticized as wrong decision
LINCOLN, Nebraska (Nebraska Examiner) — Pheasant hunting in South Dakota brings in about $220 million a year in retail spending and brings an annual influx of 120,000 orange-clad hunters into the state.
But an attempt by a Nebraska state senator to replicate that economic impact by increasing Nebraska’s dwindling pheasant population has drawn opposition from biologists and groups working to increase the wildlife population.
State Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
On Wednesday, they said State Senator Tom Brewer’s proposal to pay a $10 bounty on pheasant predators – as is done in South Dakota – is the wrong solution to a complex problem.
Opponents of Bill 400 included the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Pheasants Forever, the Nebraska Athletes’ Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and famed National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore.
They argued that loss of ringed pheasant habitat and bad weather during the nesting season are the main reasons for the decline in bird populations since their peak in the 1960s.
Alicia Hardin, a wildlife administrator with the Game and Parks Commission, said a number of studies have shown that if the right habitat is provided and the weather is not too cold, wet or too dry after the birds hatch, the number of pheasants will increase. .
Statewide raptor payments are hard to support financially, she says, and don’t account for all the animals that prey on pheasants and their eggs.
Wildlife area has shrunk
Nebraska, Hardin said, has lost about half of the pastures protected under the federal conservation conservation program since its peak in the 1990s, contributing to the decline in pheasant numbers. Approximately 351,000 acres were registered with CRP in 2021.
She added that the Game and Parks Commission launched an initiative in 2017 to increase the pheasant population, the Berggren Plan, which affected 300,000 acres of land. According to Hardin, investing in habitat is the best idea.
Rising crop prices have contributed to the expansion of plowed fields and the reduction of pheasant habitat, others said. Others say modern farming practices, when pesticides rid fields of weeds and insects, are to blame.
Meanwhile, LB 400 proponents said populations of coyotes, raccoons, and other pheasant predators appear to have increased, and with falling fur and trapper prices, populations cannot be controlled without an incentive.
They lamented the lack of opportunities for young hunters and the missed opportunity to splurge on motels, food, and hunting lodges that would bring in more pheasants to chase.
Brewer says he was ambushed
Brewer, at the conclusion of the LB 400 public hearing at the Legislative Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, expressed some anger that wildlife organizations “caught him by surprise” in their evidence against, instead of working with him on amendments before the hearing.
He said one of the ideas put forward at the hearing – giving farmers a property tax break if they set acres aside for wildlife – deserves attention, and that he remains committed to working on solutions.
The Natural Resources Committee took no action on the LB 400 after Wednesday’s hearing.
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