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A walk on the wild side

Wildlife surveys take place in AugustĀ 

August 4, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

Lots of things wildlife-related are happening and being reported. Keen observers see lots of interesting items and are willing to share the who, what and where to this scribe. Thank you. Keep up the good work. Just one example are pheasants, a colorful game bird that is highly prized by hunters and wildlife watchers alike.

The organization Pheasants Forever is celebrating 30 years of service to conservation Sunday. Incorporated on August 5, 1982, PF now has 700 chapters and 130,000 members. This milestone will be celebrated with great pride at the next National Pheasant Fest, Feb. 15-17 in Minneapolis. PF is the only national conservation organization empowering its local chapters to keep the funds they raise. This decision by PF national officers is key. This unique model sets PF apart and helps fuel more PF grassroots growth.

Thirty years ago PF started at zero with regard to acres of land and habitat project enhancements to help make the land more productive for upland game birds. During those 30 years, a considerable amount of habitat was created via federal initiatives including the big one, the Conservation Reserve Program. Piggy backing on that work, and continuing today in spite of CRP enrollments expiring, PF can still point with pride to 8.5 million acres of habitat achievements. Nationally PF has an efficiency rating of 91.7 percent and 22 full-time employees. More than half of that staff are biologists who work directly with landowners at the local level. Hurray for these dedicated folks and all PF members who contribute time, talent and funding for conservation work.

Article Photos

A group of young of the year wild turkeys were recently seen in a farm field adjacent to a woodlot. Dry weather has allowed for successful hatches of turkeys, pheasants and gray partridge, all of which have been seen locally. During the next two weeks, DNR officers and wildlife officials will conduct roadside surveys beginning at dawn. When count numbers are finished, trend lines for bird populations will be made. Stay tuned.

In Iowa, CRP acres have declined due to a combination of expiring contracts and simultaneous high commodity prices. That makes the job of conservation on the land more critical. In 2007, Iowa had 1.97 million acres of conservation reserve lands. That has fallen to 1.66 million acres as of the fall of 2011. More contracts continue to expire now and into future years. There is no way to escape the fact that upland birds need grass. Grasslands support nesting cover and food sources, protection from predators, while at the same time holding soil in place to prevent erosion and clarify water runoff before it reaches streams.

Biological facts concerning pheasants show that adequate habitat and favorable weather are prime factors in the growth of wild bird populations. Given those conditions, pheasants can respond well with increased survivability. Wild pheasants also have the right stuff to survive, unlike pen-reared pheasants. If pen-raised birds could be economically produced and if the stocking of those birds into the wild was a proven methodology for supplementing wild populations, the DNR would have been doing that long ago. The truth is that stocking pen raised birds in the numbers upland hunters want to see is not an economically sound option. And pen-raised birds in the long run do not have the right survival stuff either compared to wild ones.

It is always tempting to look for easy answers to complex situations. Pen-raised birds released into the wild is an easy answer. It overlooks a host of complex issues concerning wild pheasant biology that are much harder to identify in an ever-changing land use environment.


HAND FISHING in Iowa is illegal. Recent arrests by game wardens of a few folks that could not resist posting pictures on Facebook or other Internet sources lead to investigations and citations. When asked recently why Iowa does not allow it, I can only suggest that a discussion with fisheries biologist should be the first step. This scribe knows that part of the answer will be related to catfish survival. If too many large female catfish are taken from nest sites, then the young fish become easy food sources for other predators. However, the way to change the law is to get a bill introduced in the legislature to make it legal, go through fact finding, testimony and debate. If at the end of all that the bill is passed and signed into law, then hand fishing will become legal. Some states allow it. Others do not. At the present Iowa is in the latter category.


Lots of attention is being paid to a WHITE BISON calf in Connecticut. You may have read in the news of a white bison calf born June 16. The odds are one in 10 million for the genetic expression of white surface color. It is unusual and unique. Periodically there will be reports of other white critters like robins, garter snakes, skunks, wild turkeys, pheasants, deer, crows and many more. Some have true albino conditions. Some are just all white but not a true classification of albinoism. Nature is neat. And a white bison calf rates pretty high on the neat scale.


Deer licenses for 2012-13 go on sale Aug. 15, the same date as in past years. Hunters can make initial purchases of licenses and receive transportation tags at several stores with the electronic system in place. The General Store is just one location in Marshalltown to obtain those items. There will be a limit on purchases of doe deer licenses at this time. Then after Sept. 15, any quota tags remaining specific to a county can be purchased until the quota is sold out. Past history shows that the sellout happens in a few hours or days. Plan ahead. Last year Iowa deer hunters took 121,407 animals.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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