From Minn. DNR Roadside Survey
An increase in grassland habitat acres combined with another relatively mild winter and favorable breeding season conditions led to increases in Minnesota’s 2016 population indices for ring-necked pheasants and gray partridge.
Winning on Habitat Front
For the first time since 2011, total acres of undisturbed grassland habitat increased across Minnesota’s farmland region. Overall, 54,495 acres were gained statewide since 2015, including 24,307 acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) habitat. Acres either held nearly steady or increased in all other private land conservation programs. Publically-owned grassland habitat also increased in 2016. Net habitat gains occurred in the pheasant range (61,525 acres) whereas the prairie chicken range (mostly represented by the Northwest region) lost 957 acres.
The winter of 2015-16 was the second consecutive mild winter, and most regions had minimal snow during March. Spring and early summer temperatures varied widely but, on average, temperatures were at or above normal from April-June. Several regions were drier than normal but many areas in the southern regions had above-normal rainfall in May and June. Overall, weather conditions led to good overwinter survival and good nesting and brood-rearing conditions.
Grassland and wetland habitat conservation remains a priority concern for Minnesota. Private-land conservation programs, including CRP, continue to make up the largest portion of protected grassland habitat in the state but approximately 393,000 acres of CRP are set to expire by 2018. Recent low corn and soybean prices have increased landowner interest in farmland retirement programs; however, the current federal Farm Bill limits the number of acres that can be enrolled in CRP and the most recent CRP-sign up resulted in a low acceptance rate in Minnesota (i.e., only 9% of acres offered were accepted).
Funding from the Legacy Amendment has helped partially offset habitat losses but the pace has not kept up with the rate of CRP losses. Minnesota’s Prairie Conservation Plan and Pheasant Summit Action Plan both offer a blueprint for moving forward with grassland and wetland habitat conservation strategies in the farmland regions, thereby helping partners prioritize lands acquired with Legacy Amendment funding.
SWMN Pheasant Counts Up 26% over 2015
In 2016, the average number of pheasants observed (52.1 birds/100 mi) increased 29% from 2015 but was 14% below the 10-year average (Table 2, Fig. 3A) and 48% below the long-term average. Total pheasants observed per 100 mi ranged from 17.9 birds in the Southeast region to 96.0 birds in the Southwest region (Table 3). The pheasant index showed substantial increases in the Central (72%) and South Central (70%) regions. Regional indices also increased in the East Central (27%), Southwest (26%), and West Central (10%) regions. Good harvest opportunities should exist in all regions with the exception of the Southeast where the index declined 31% compared to 2015.
The 2016 range-wide pheasant brood index (8.7 broods/100 mi) increased 39% from last year (Table 2). The index was 7% below the 10-year average and 34% below the long-term average. Regional brood indices ranged from 3.6 broods/100 mi in the Southeast to 15.6 broods/100 mi in the Southwest. Brood indices increased in all regions (range: 14% to 103%) except the Southeast which remained similar to 2015’s index. The average brood size in 2016 (4.4 chicks/brood) was down slightly from the 2015 index and the 10-year average (both indices = 4.7 chicks/brood) and was 20% below the long-term average (5.5 chicks/brood). The median estimated hatch date for pheasant broods across their range was 11 June 2016 (n = 330 broods), which was similar to the 10-year average (12 June; Table 2). Notably, the median estimated hatch dates were later in the South Central (17 June) and Southwest (22 June) regions where rainfall may have disrupted early-season nest attempts.
For more information, read the entire report at the Minnesota DNR Website.