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Hunting: North Dakota spring pheasant population numbers on the rise

BISMARCK — North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, the Game and Fish Department reported this week.

According to Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for Game and Fish in Bismarck, results from the department’s spring crowing count survey indicate the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up about 6 percent statewide from 2013, with increases ranging from about 2 percent to 9 percent depending on the region.

The spring number is a positive indicator, Kohn said, but it does not predict fall pheasant numbers. Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by September, will provide a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population, Kohn said.

Last year, the fall pheasant population was down from 2012 because of rather poor production, but Kohn said low winter mortality, particularly in the southern one-third of the state, helped boost this year’s spring count.

Another positive is that abundant moisture has provided for good habitat conditions heading into the prime nesting period. On the downside, Kohn said that since 2008, North Dakota has lost more than 2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, much of it in pheasant range. That means total nesting habitat in the state is significantly reduced from where it was when the spring crowing count index peaked in 2008.

The 2014 index is down about one-third from that peak.

“Loss of CRP acres continues to reduce the amount of nesting and brood-rearing habitat on the landscape,” Kohn said. “This and other grassland conversion is going to negatively affect our pheasant population in the future.”

Game and Fish conducts pheasant crowing counts each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop.

The number of pheasant crows heard then is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.

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