The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.
Minnesota natural resources, long-cherished and long-protected by an environmentally aware population, seem to be under attack once again.
The threats to the state’s pheasant population through loss of habitat have almost never been worse. The Minnesota pheasant index in 2015 is 39 percent below the 10 year average and 59 percent below the long-term average.
Just 58,000 hunters took to the fields last year, the lowest level in 30 years and they harvested just 153,000 birds, the lowest in 40 years. Much of this decline is driven by the loss of habitat, with the state losing over 97,000 acres, or 151 square miles, of habitat since 2007, according to a report in the Star Tribune.
Gov. Mark Dayton came to the heart of pheasant country last week to promote a badly needed new 10-point plan to restore pheasant habitat. He visited the Nicollet Conservation Club near Swan Lake, arguably the location of some of the best pheasant and duck hunting in the state.
His plans calls for spending up to $100 million to restore pheasant habitat and pheasant numbers to their historical levels. It calls for increasing enrollment in conservation reserve programs that pay farmers to permanently idle some of their land for habitat. The plan also calls for increasing the acquisition of private lands for pheasant habitat and creating zones of land at least 9 square miles where 40 percent of the land can be permanently protected within four years.
There will be more management of pheasant habitat and more monitoring of pheasant populations. The plans calls for communicating the results of the surveys to the public and educating them and landowners on the importance of growing pheasant habitat. It calls for getting federal conservation grants to boost Walk-In hunting areas.
Much of the state funding will come from Legacy fund sales tax which has been specifically designated for environmental uses.
Dayton’s pheasant plan, and laws passed recently, call for increasing the number of buffers strips along waterways to filter pollution and help maintain habitat that is unhealthy not only for pheasants but all kinds of fish and wildlife populations.
The plan has energy because it is backed in part by hunting, conservation and some farm groups including Pheasants Forever, the Farm Bureau and the Board of Water and Soil Resources. Farmers too, have a role to play in protecting Minnesota pheasant habitat.
But high commodity prices have enticed farmers to move some of their conservation land back into row crop farming. The loss of habitat not only affects pheasants but other species like songbirds and honeybees, according to Department of Natural Resources pheasant biologist Nicole Davros, who is stationed in Madelia.
As Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson noted, farmers and landowners have a stake in this game. Minnesota pheasant hunting generates an estimated $100 million in economic activity into the rural economy.
But those who might oppose the aggressive action on restoring the pheasant habitat should also remember in 1998, some 77 percent of Minnesotans voted to add protections for hunting and fishing rights to the Minnesota Constitution.
The amendment asked voters: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to affirm that hunting and fishing and the taking of game and fish are a valued part of our heritage that shall be forever preserved for the people and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good?”
So far, one could argue we are not “forever preserving” the taking of game and fish with the serious decline in our pheasant population.
Dayton’s plan will go a long way to restoring that promise we made to ourselves.
Reprinted with permission.
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