A sad forecast from the NYT. Similar news was reported this week in Mid-West publications as small game season approaches. Above is a picture of this writer and his faithful upland game dog Archie. Archie is retired now as he is 14...but damn was he a pheasant hunting machine in his prime...and a 1/2 lab-1/2 English Setter mutt that I saved at a rescue shelter
The pheasant, once king of Iowa’s nearly half-a-billion-dollar hunting industry, is vanishing from the state. Surveys show that the population in 2012 was the second lowest on record, 81 percent below the average over the past four decades.
The loss, pheasant hunters say, is both economic and cultural. It stems from several years of excessively damp weather and animal predators. But the factor inciting the most emotion is the loss of wildlife habitat as landowners increasingly chop down their brushy fields to plant crops to take advantage of rising commodity prices and farmland values.
Over the last two decades, Iowa has lost more than 1.6 million acres of habitat suitable for pheasants and other small game, the equivalent of a nine-mile-wide strip of land stretching practically the width of the state. And these declines have been occurring nationwide.
Each of the top seven pheasant hunting states have seen sizable reductions in the number of pheasants shot and the number of pheasant hunters over the last five years, according to data provided by Pheasants Forever, a group advocating for the expansion of wildlife habitat and land for public hunting. Last year, there were more than 1.4 million pheasant hunters nationally, a drop of about 800,000 in two decades.
“We’re at a tipping point, and we have to decide how important it is to keep traditions for upland bird hunting alive and into the future,” said David E. Nomsen, the vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever.
Federal wildlife officials say the money that sportsmen and -women pump into the local communities is vital. More than $33.7 billion was spent on hunting in 2011, including $2.5 billion on small game, which includes pheasants.
“In these times of fiscal restraint, when budgets are being slashed, we need to do all we can to make sure hunting and fishing remain viable pastimes,” Daniel M. Ashe, the director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an e-mail.
In Iowa, the issue essentially has pitted the interests of the state’s recreational industry against its biggest economic driver, farming.
Among farmers, “it’s being passed down, from generation to generation, ‘How much can you get out of this land?’ ” said Mr. Wilson, the pheasant hunter, a 49-year-old former naval officer who hunts about three times a week. “ ‘Yes, you’ve got to take care of it — blah, blah, blah — but how much can you make for your family out of this piece of land?’ It’s not about ‘Is little Billy going to grow up to be a hunter?’ anymore.”
Bruce Rohwer, the president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said he believed that farmers were as concerned as ever about being good stewards of the land and allowing natural habitats to bloom where they would prevent soil erosion and water contamination. But farmers also have to contend with economic realities, he said.
“As much as some people have romantic ideas that farming is just something that happens,” he said, “it is the way in which we make a living, so you have to consider all factors.”