By Nick Simonson
Pheasant opener serves as a chance to look back on the year for many hunters, and for North Dakota’s Pheasants Forever (PF) staff even more so. It’s a moment on the calendar to assess the progress made in the name of conservation, and review the relationships built across North Dakota between PF, landowners and various wildlife and conservation agencies in the last 12 months.
According to PF State Coordinator Rachel Bush, the past year has been one with several big wins for the organization in North Dakota, especially in terms of connecting with landowners on conservation, and putting the people and programs into place on private land to encourage habitat stewardship.
“This year we received a grant from the [ND] Dept. of Health to hire a full-time precision agriculture specialist,” Bush explained, adding that Melissa Shockman will serve southeastern North Dakota in that role and she has been working with landowners on the ground in that area since July to provide guidance on marginal acres in their land holdings.
Utilizing the Profit Zone Manager program of Iowa-based partner company AgSolver to identify those most profitable and productive farming acres, and those which would be better suited to Federal and State conservation programs, Shockman will help farmers identify areas where conservation program use increases return-on-investment in their farming efforts. Shockman’s position was also made possible through contributions by the North Dakota Game & Fish Department and individual PF Chapters.
Via a grant from the North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund, PF also expanded its private-land conservation efforts in the southwestern portion of the state, helping ranchers install habitat-friendly infrastructure in their cattle-raising operations.
“The OHF grant will help cover the cost of cross fencing, water tanks, pipelines, fence and water to establish a rotational system,” Bush explained, “this will make rotational grazing a better option for cattle, so they’re not on one pasture all year long,” she relayed, adding that more grass cover will result from this practice, providing better habitat for wildlife.
Additionally, North Dakota PF established the nation’s first Women in Conservation Coordinator position, and hired Kayla Bendel in July. The position seeks to work with women landowners, farmers and ranchers to achieve their stewardship goals on the lands they own. Bendel will perform outreach and education efforts on behalf of PF, and present at Women Caring for the Land events and others empowering female land owners.
With 2018 just a pheasant season away, Bush eyes the coming Farm Bill discussion in congress with some optimism, noting that the landowner demand for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres is there to justify increased opportunities for enrollment, while the cap on the program remains at just 24 million acres nationwide, down from 32 million a decade ago. With profitability of row crops at recent lows, especially wheat, the amounts paid by the Federal Government under CRP are now becoming more attractive to farmers.
“Back in June we sent our southwest ND chapter leaders to Washington D.C. to meet with our congressional delegates and discuss the Farm Bill and the importance of conservation,” Bush related, “it will be important that PF and its members have their voices heard,” she concluded.
The 2017 North Dakota pheasant season will serve as a reminder to hunters on the importance of habitat. While optimistic about the ability of bird populations to bounce back from the cold and snowy past winter, and the harsh drought conditions this summer brought, Bush expressed that habitat will be the ultimate driver.
“We know pheasant populations are capable of rebounding, but we have a much smaller habitat base and that will affect the pace at which they’ll come back,” she concluded, adding “I encourage those interested in learning more about our North Dakota habitat programs to contact Melissa or Cayla, or PF’s ND Regional Representative, Renee McKeehen.”
For more information on Pheasants Forever, visit pheasantsforever.org.
(Featured Photo: A rooster flushes over CRP in the last light of day. Habitat efforts in ND will be key in helping with a pheasant population rebound in the coming years, and Pheasants Forever is on the ground, working hard with private landowners to establish sustainable conservation practices on their acres. Simonson Photo)