October 16, 2017
Pheasants Forever recently released its 2017 Pheasant Hunting Forecast, and while other parts of the upper Midwest are showing a decline in populations, Michigan is showing an increase. That’s in part due to increased habitat, according to Al Stewart Michigan Department of Natural Resources upland game bird specialist. And the increase in habitat can be linked to a unique program that seeks to bring together landowners, state and federal agencies, conservation clubs, and others who enjoy wildlife and want to see it thrive.
The Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative (MPRI) is a grassroots conservation initiative started in 2011 to help neighbors work together as a “cooperative” to restore pheasant populations and habitat in Michigan’s traditional pheasant range.
While the Initiative names pheasants, it’s really about developing all small-game hunting opportunities in Michigan.
“It’s about pheasants and grassland species overall,” Stewart says. “And it’s not just about hunting. We have people involved who just like wildlife and like to see birds.”
The idea of a cooperative is to pool resources and to group people and land together. Pheasant cooperatives aim to build relationships with neighbors while working toward a common goal of improving habitat on their properties.
Ideally, cooperatives involve both public and private lands that provide at least 1,200 to 2,000 acres of high-quality pheasant habitat within a 10,000-acre area, Stewart says.
“The majority of habitat for pheasants is on private lands, so to make a difference, we needed to connect private land owners and have them band together,” he explains.
Three priority Pheasant Recovery Areas have been identified for this initiative:
• Huron, Sanilac and Tuscola counties
• Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties
• Gratiot, Saginaw and Clinton counties
The goal is to restore pheasant habitat on 15% to 30% of the landscape within Pheasant Recovery Areas.
For participating coalitions, DNR staff will provide advice and assistance on habitat prescriptions; project partners will aid in securing seed for grass plantings; and federal resources may be leveraged to provide financial incentives for participating landowners.
Also, for land that meets habitat restoration objectives, DNR may provide seed and materials for plantings, the use of equipment, and in some cases, the release of wild pheasants to initiate population response.
“We’ve had outreach programs before, but not to this level or depth with this program,” Stewart says. “Many times you’ll have one organization trying to run with something or an idea to create habitat. But with this pheasant initiative, we have merged activities and partners under one large umbrella.”
MPRI works by acquiring state and federal resources to assist landowners. Federal funding is available through farm bill programs, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers Wildlife Habitat Grants, which are available to local, state, federal and tribal units of government, groups, and individuals to develop or improve wildlife habitat for game species. To date, over $1.15 million has awarded and 3,265 acres improved.
“We’re not talking about taking land out of production, but if you have a foul field sitting there, maybe you want to plant some warm-season grasses, which would also benefit pollinators,” Stewart says.
To get involved in the Pheasant Restoration Initiative, landowners may contact Al Stewart, DNR upland game bird specialist, at [email protected], or Mark Sargent, DNR private lands coordinator, at [email protected].
DNR asks hunters to help monitor pheasants and quail in Michigan by filling out a survey form, which provides important information about the status of these game birds.
Initiative goals set
Key initiative goals within the first 10-year timeframe (2011-20), include:
• increasing pheasant populations
• positively impacting 200,000 acres for pheasants by restoring or enhancing high-quality blocks of habitat on the broader landscape
• restoring, enhancing or maintaining 25,000 acres of high-quality grassland habitat for pheasants on public and private lands within the 200,000-acre focus area
• securing sustainable funding and necessary resources to implement the initiative
• expanding access to pheasant hunting on public and private lands
• recruiting, retaining and reconnecting with small-game hunters
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