Important: a call to action from Pheasants Forever…

If you love pheasant hunting, please watch this video. Upland game habitat is being destroyed at accelerating rate across the midwest. Since 2006, 1.3 million+ acres of once conserved land have gone under the plow. The result is far fewer bird. Pheasant numbers in states like Iowa are already collapsing. If the trend continues, the Dakotas will be next. But you don’t have to sit by and let this happen. Watch this video to learn more.

Real bad news for South Dakota’s wild pheasants…

Bye, Bye, Bird Cover. From John Pollman's piece Big Changes on the Prairie
Bye, Bye, Bird Cover. From John Pollman’s piece Big Changes on the Prairie

Iowa used to have some of the best pheasant hunting in the world. Today, the bird’s numbers have collapsed to the second lowest number on record.

While the disappearance of these birds is caused by a number of factors, the biggest  is habitat loss. As more land goes under the plow, there are fewer places for the pheasants.

This same phenomenon is now underway in South Dakota. In his post Big Changes on the Prairie, writer John Pollmann talks about what he’s seeing in his home state and how it’s laying waste to what used to be one of the greatest places in the world to hunt wild birds. If you care about hunting wild birds, I encourage you to read the excerpt  below and click through to the rest of his piece.

Big Changes on the Prairie

“The majority of South Dakota lies covered in snow these days – welcome precipitation for a state that has been locked in a drought for more than a year.

I count myself among most South Dakotans who enjoy having snow around, as long as it stays in one place. Those moments are fleeting however, as our big prairie sky is almost always producing a big prairie wind. Give us all a day or two of blowing snow, and we soon begin to long for spring.

Invariably, when South Dakota is gripped by a frozen blast of cold and snow, my mind drifts to those pioneers who settled this land in the latter half of the 19th century. How did they make it through the winter on a treeless prairie? And when those first warm southerly breezes arrived in March, what possessed them to stay?

The U.S. Government was probably thinking the same thing when it doled out land to those individuals from around the world who took advantage of the Homestead Act and other land acts. Part of the agreement was that for a 160 acre claim, a person had to work the land, build a house and live on the homestead  for five years.”  Read the rest here.

 

 

 

U.S. Energy industry vs. the Lesser Prairie Chicken

Lesser Prairie Chicken, photo by: Greg Kramos / USFWS
Lesser Prairie Chicken, photo by: Greg Kramos / USFWS

Here’s some more information from The Texas Tribune about the upcoming battle between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and  the American Energy Industry over the survival of the lesser prairie chicken.

As I wrote in this post, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service may list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. This would result in serious repercussions for the energy industries in the midwest.

Texas Energy Industry Could be Stymied by Small Grouse

“In a few months, a grouse known as the lesser prairie chicken will emerge from its West Texas winter hideaway. Males will do a loud and elaborate mating dance, delighting females — and birdwatchers.

But there is less dancing now because the chickens’ numbers have declined. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, acting under the Endangered Species Act, will decide by the end of September whether to put the birds on its list of threatened species. Such a move could have serious repercussions for wind farms, as well as oil and gas drilling, conceivably halting activity in some areas. Those industries are fighting to keep them off the list…”

You can read all the post here.

The end of bird hunting as we know it?

If you care about bird hunting and conservation, please read this and take action. Spread the word by passing it on to a friend, too.

From yesterday’s New York Times. BTW: I’m posting this in its entirety because I’m not sure if everyone can reach it behind NYT’s paywall.

Could the Farm Bill Devastate America’s Birds?

STRETCHING across the Upper Midwest is a 276,000-square-mile expanse full of wetlands and grasslands. This vast area — known as the prairie pothole region and extending from northwestern Iowa to Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana and into Canada — provides the breeding habitat for roughly half of North America’s migratory waterfowl. But unless Congress acts, this priceless ecological domain could come under severe threat.
 

Congress is debating reauthorization of the federal farm bill. The legislation is not just about the future of agricultural and nutrition programs. It is also about conservation and the fate of one of North America’s most important breeding grounds for upland birds like grouse and pheasants, along with waterfowl like mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, northern pintail, redheads, northern shovelers, and canvasback ducks.
 
Since 1985, the farm legislation has required farmers to protect wetlands and fragile soils on their lands in order to qualify for billions of dollars a year in farm-program payments. But the bill that has emerged from the House Agriculture Committee lacks an important provision that would preserve those conservation incentives. Perhaps no place would be more threatened by this failure than the prairie pothole region, where, 10,000 years ago, decaying glaciers left behind an extraordinary landscape marked by thousands of shallow wetlands.

This region is already being plowed under because high commodity prices have enticed farmers to opt out of the less lucrative government assistance programs, freeing them to drain wetlands and plant as much of their land as possible. A recent study by Defenders of Wildlife and the Environmental Working Group found that the annual rate of grassland loss nationwide had doubled between 2006 and 2011, much of it in the prairie pothole region. If this rate continues, most of the remaining grasslands there will disappear over the next 15 years.

It is not an overstatement to say that this looming destruction is one of America’s greatest conservation challenges.

The farm bill now being considered in Congress would eliminate longstanding direct federal payments to farmers. Instead, both the House and Senate bills would provide even more generous federal assistance for farmers who choose to purchase federal crop insurance. (At present, farmers who sign up for crop insurance are not required to conserve their lands and wetlands.) Unlike the House measure, the Senate bill would require farmers who do so to protect wetlands and fragile soils, as they were required to do as a condition of the direct payment program, and, until 1996, under the crop insurance program.

Thanks to the farm bill’s long-standing conservation requirements, soil erosion in the United States dropped by 43 percent between 1982 and 2007, saving more than a billion tons of rich topsoil, according to the Agriculture Department. In the prairie pothole region, there has been a resurgence in the populations of pheasants and ducks. And that has translated into a boom in recreational hunting that has generated tens of millions of dollars in annual income for rural communities, landowners and the states. It has also benefited sport hunting in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, where the waterfowl retreat for the winter.

Recognizing the growing threat to the region, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service last year established the Dakotas Grasslands Conservation Area to save 2 million acres of wetlands through the purchase of permanent conservation easements from willing landowners. But if the new farm bill fails to retain the conservation compliance requirement as a condition of enrolling in the crop insurance program, there will be little incentive for landowners to participate in the Fish and Wildlife Service effort. Easement payments can’t compete with high crop prices. And crop losses on farmland created by draining wetlands or plowing native prairie would qualify for insurance payments. So farmers would have every reason to plant as many acres as possible.

American taxpayers have always had a compact with farmers. In return for financial support when commodity prices were down and farm income was suffering, the government required farmers to conserve our soil and wetlands to protect our most precious and vulnerable places. This conservation compact has been a critical part of long-standing farm policy. It ensures that government payments protect not only our farmers, but also our natural heritage.

Members of Congress and President Obama should uphold this commitment. It is the kind of responsible leadership that our children deserve and American taxpayers should insist upon.

Jim Lyons is senior director for renewable energy at Defenders of Wildlife. Mark Rey is the executive in residence at Michigan State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Eric Washburn is a partner at BlueWater Strategies, a lobbying firm, where he focuses on energy and natural resource issues. Mr. Lyons and Mr. Rey both served as under secretary for natural resources and environment in the Agriculture Department, Mr. Lyons under President Bill Clinton and Mr. Rey under President George W. Bush.

 

Tell the Senate to support the Sportsmen’s Conservation Act of 2012…..

Dogs and Doubles would like to join Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever in urging hunters and sportsmen and women nationwide to support the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 (S. 3525).

Pheasants Forever
Pheasants Forever

Act now: Call and leave a message for your Senators right away.

Tell them to support the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 (S. 3525)

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 represents 19 individual conservation titles, combined through bipartisan support, and is an incredibly important step for sportsmen and women throughout the United States as we fight for conservation on the American landscape. The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 is directly applicable to Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever supporters through its conservation of upland habitat and increased access for recreational hunting.

Some benefits of the Sportmen’s Act of 2012 include:

1. The continuation of critical habitat investment programs due to expire, including North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act

2. Reauthorizes Federal Lands Transaction Facilitation Act, which uses “land for land” approach to improve access

3. Creates a 1.5 percent set aside from Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to specifically address access issues by purchasing in holdings in existing public lands and securing easements to access-restricted acreage

4. This bill allows the Secretary of Interior to reevaluate the price of the critical Duck Stamp every three years and permanently offer an electronic duck stamp, assuring the stamp price can adjust accordingly to match inflation

5. This bill will have no cost to taxpayers

When you contact your Senator, let them know that the Sportsmen’s Conservation Act of 2012, the habitat it will protect, hunting heritage it will further, and the outdoor spaces it will create are important to you and your family. Ask your Senator to:

1. Support the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 (S. 3525)

2. Encourage other members of the Senate to follow suit and support America’s sportsmen and women

All Senate offices can be found here or directly through the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121. Thank you for standing up for America’s sportsmen and women!

Monkey the Woodcock travels 4400 miles…

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Woodcock Watch
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Woodcock Watch

Woodcock fascinate me. Each year, these softball-sized creatures migrate thousands of miles back and forth between their summer & winter grounds.  They’re arrival in April marks the beginning of my spring and watching them come through in the fall is one of the high points of my year.

Here in the US, we hunt the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor). Over in Europe they have a similar bird, but while their Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) looks almost identical to our timberdoodles, the Euro Woodcock is about 1/3 larger than our birds.

Along with a larger size, it looks like the Euro Woodcocks also have a wider migration pattern. At least that’s prelimary results from the UK’s Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust Woodcock Watch are indicating. This project has affixed satellite tracking devices to several birds, and the information that the devices are sending back is pretty amazing.  One woodcock, code named Monkey (MO on the map below), has travelled 4400 miles since the project began.

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Woodcock Watch
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Woodcock Watch

Considering that the continental US is about 2,8oo miles wide, and that Monkey will be repeating this trip in the fall, that’s some serious traveling. It’s also one more reason to have a tremendous amount of respect for all kinds of woodcock.

BTW: you can support the Woodcock Watch for about $50. Considering the value of the research their gathering, it seems like a pretty good deal.

A good cause for a great bird…

American Woodcock
American Woodcock

If you’ve spent any time checking out this blog, you know how much I love woodcock. Fortunately, a lot of folks feel this way about these little birds. Some of those folks have come together to reform Woodcock Limited, an organization of  “Hunters and other conservationists dedicated to the welfare of the American woodcock.” I encourage you to find out more about Woodcock Limited. From their website: “We work with local, state and national organizations and agencies to promote woodcock habitat creation, restoration and maintenance; woodcock and habitat research; and woodcock harvest management across the range of the American woodcock.”

If you can, please donate your time and money to their efforts. The future of our sport depends on conservation. Woodcock numbers are falling throughout North America. I want to make sure that I do all I can to make sure that trend swings in the other direction.

Woodcock Limited
Woodcock Limited

Fight for the woodcock’s future…

Habitat loss and declining bird numbers — it’s a sad story that’s being played out across North America. It’s also a story that involves woodcock. Eahc year, as forests mature and housing developments expands, these birds loose more of their home turf. The Woodcock Task Force is fighting to stop this.

 

Fight for the American Woodcock!
Fight for the American Woodcock!

Read more about their efforts here and find out what you can do to help. When you’re done, check out the video below for some great footage of woodcock and woodcock hunting in South Carolina.

Is South Dakota the next Pennsylvania?

Back in the late 1960’s, Pennsylvania was the South Dakota of pheasant hunting. Sportsman harvested over million pheasants a season from this eastern state and in 1971 over 1.3 million of them were taken by Pennsylvania hunters. But by the mid 1990s these numbers had crashed and fewer than 255,000 pheasants were being killed a year.

South Dakota, 2012
South Dakota, 2012

In 2006, South Dakota hunters killed over two million pheasants. I hunted out there last fall and while the birds numbers are down, there were still plenty of pheasants around. But this may not be the case in the future.

StarTribune reporter Dennis Anderson filed this story on changes going on in  South Dakota and how these changes are impacted one of America’s favorite upland birds. Here’s an excerpt:

“Anyone who thinks South Dakota can continue to produce the pheasants, ducks and other wildlife it has in the past just doesn’t know what’s going on here. You’re quite possibly witnessing the end of an era. Some of the nation’s last, best prairies and potholes are going away.” Read the full article now.

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