Iowa has a nearly $500 million annual hunting industry that relies on pheasant hunting for the bulk of its visitors. Pheasant numbers faced declines, however, and many who rely on the industry are growing concerned.
Studies have shown the number of pheasants in Iowa saw a decline of 81% below the annual average for the past 40 years. The decline is in large part due to extremely damp weather and an increase in animal predators. A significant loss of habitat is also to blame.
Since 2007, Iowa’s pheasant population was decimated by record snowfalls of 30-50 inches. Last winter offered the first reprieve with only 17 inches of snowfall.
The habitat lost over 1.6 million acres over the past 20 years in Iowa alone, not to mention similar habitat loss occurring nationwide. Efforts to protect and provide a habitat for pheasants and other wildlife have not kept up with the market prices for property and development.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program offers financial incentives for rural property owners to basically leave land untouched or to plant various grasses that help to turn the private property into habitat for wildlife. The property owners receiving funds from the program commonly make the land available for hunting.
There are also non-governmental efforts to create more habitat for pheasants and other wildlife, such as the program to educate and encourage habitat creation and restoration offered by the Iowa chapter of Pheasants Forever.
Unfortunately for Iowa and pheasant hunters, the forecast for the coming year’s pheasant population looks even bleaker than the 2012 numbers. A late-December blizzard covered much of the habitat pheasants use for feeding in deep snow.
A game biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources stated that snowfall levels between December 1 thru March 31 indicate whether pheasant populations will increase or decrease for the following year. This first blizzard of the year has already approached the 17 inches of snow Iowa experienced in the entirety of last year’s winter.