Pheasant stocking hurts youth and birds

Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) This weekend Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is holding its weekend for pheasants and waterfowl in an effort to recruit young hunters. While Montana hunters support such opportunities, most say hunting farmed pheasant in FWP’s enclosure is harmful to both children and birds.

Youth Pheasant Weekend is meant to allow kids aged 12 to 15 who have completed hunter’s education to hunt with an adult for a couple of days when they don’t have to compete with other hunters.

The problem, the hunters say, is not the youth event, but the fact that FWP is paying Montana state prison – through a division called Montana Correctional Enterprises – to put prisoners to work raising birds for release. And FWP is using more than $ 1 million of Pittman-Robertson federal money and sports license dollars to do so.

Against the wishes of many Montana hunters, the 2021 legislature passed House Bill 637, a jumble of articles proposed by the FWP’s office of directors, which included spending about $ 1 million for a pheasant breeding program.

This is now the second year of the program and its popularity among hunters has not improved. Past attempts in Montana and other states have shown that keeping pheasants raised in an enclosure is not cost effective and does not offer a good experience for young hunters.

Numerous efforts were made to get comments from FWP spokesman Greg Lemon, but they were ignored.

Last year, FWP achieved a “phased release” of 2,700 pheasants, but the program didn’t have long after the bill was signed to begin. So the agency ended up releasing immature birds that didn’t fly off the ground.

Former FWP biologist Jeff Herbert said he didn’t teach children how to be good hunters.

“Some friends watched the release at Lake Helena last year. The birds were sparsely feathered and didn’t know any better. Some flew onto the street and were run over, “Herbert said.” Some people in the mentoring dog club said a number of birds were being dragged to the ground, so we’re not instilling ethics and responsibility for hunting in young children “.

The prisoners have had a little more time this year, but that doesn’t mean the next batch of birds will provide a better experience for the kids.

Walker Conyngham, president of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers in Missoula, said FWP director Hank Worsech said there is no science telling him not to. But a scientific review of pheasant breeding programs in several states found that most artificially raised birds die within weeks of release, and predation is the main cause of the high mortality rate, partly because they don’t know how to act. in nature.

FWP released its pheasants a week ago, so many are unlikely to remain for the babies to hunt this weekend.

“We hunted a (wildlife management area) that had birds on it last year. I saw 150 birds in the middle of a stubble field flying around like a flock of geese. They weren’t in a good habitat – it was a habitat that I assume resembled the one they grew up in, ”Conyngham said.

Herbert said FWP has already tried storing pheasants and was unsuccessful. After nearly a decade of pheasant farming near Warm Springs, FWP shut down pheasant farming in the 1980s as it was deemed ineffective and too expensive.

“I remember the stories of Bob Green who ran the facility. They used to laugh, saying, “We were releasing these birds and it was just a dinner bell for anything that thought birds were good to eat,” Herbert said. “The only way to do this is to drop them right in front of the gun and it’s essentially a reserve of fire. This takes the wildlife management areas, which are supposed to show the best of what we do, and turns them into a de facto game reserve. “

Learning good ethics is an important part of learning to hunt, and canned hunts don’t teach that. Dropping a group of birds in a field for children to shoot teaches nothing about fair pursuit, which says animals shouldn’t be at a disadvantage.

“It sends the wrong message to young hunters: habitat doesn’t matter, just put out other birds. It’s a kind of thing to do. Throw a few pheasants out there and the kids maybe get injections and then it’s done, ”Munther said.

Conyngham thinks most guys want the real deal rather than an artificial hunt. Similar to fishing in a stocked children’s pond, a rigged hunt tends to thrill only young children. And if they kill a bird, children expect them to be able to go out and catch a bird within hours. They are learning to shoot but not to hunt ethically.

“I wonder if it’s worth it. It took me a while to get my first bird – it was a wild bird on the Front – but it was definitely worth it, “Conyngham said.

Many wonder why Montana State Prison was chosen to raise pheasants. FWP proposed the deal after the state prison lost a 30-year contract to milk cows for Darigold. The Department of Corrections lost $ 1.5 million in funding for its work program, which Republican Joliet Seth Berglee compensated for using FWP money with House Bill 637.

“He’s creating a renovation project for the prison by stealing dollars from wildlife management programs,” said Missoula hunter Greg Munther, a retired forest service biologist. “He’s really stealing from sportsmen. It has been proven time and time again to be a waste of dollars. I once testified that pen-raised pheasants are a bit like putting Leghorn chickens in a field and expecting them to be there when the hunters arrive. They have an extremely low survival and harvest rate and an extremely high cost per bird ”.

If FWP wanted to breed pheasants, Herbert said, there would have to be a bidding process or economic analysis to determine if a private farm could do it more economically.

Numerous studies show that the money would be better spent on preserving and improving a good habitat for the wild pheasants that are already here. Those birds have learned to deal with predators and survive the Montana climate.

Even so, the recent drought has stressed the pheasants in some regions, so they need all the help they can get. A good habitat with water, food, and cover gives them an edge. Studies show that the translocation of wild birds is much more effective if the areas are to be stored.

Munther said there are so many better options for giving children high-quality opportunities. Years ago, you tried unsuccessfully to get FWP to designate some Block Management areas only for young people during the season.

Block management areas are private lands where landowners have contracted with FWP to allow access for public hunters. Munther said she could help parents who can’t take their kids out on the youth weekend. Additionally, pheasants tend to prefer the fields and grasslands of central and eastern Montana, so western Montana is not a pheasant center. So there are no pheasant opportunities for babies in region 2.

“So parents who couldn’t attend the opening weekend could take their kids out after school whenever they could. I think landowners who don’t normally want to be involved in block management would do it if it were for young people, ”Munther said.

During a public meeting with Worsech in Missoula a few weeks ago, Conyngham raised the issue of pen-raised pheasants as a waste of FWP money and asked Worsech if he would ask lawmakers during the next session to stop the program if an evaluation showed it was ineffective. Worsech said no because he didn’t know if it was ineffective.

“Will it work? I have no idea,” Worsech said at the September 7 meeting.

FWP is not carrying out any monitoring or evaluation of the program. They are not monitoring the interest of the hunters; they are not tagging the birds to find how many hunters they catch; and they are not connecting radio transmitters to estimate how many could be killed by predators. Failure to collect data ensures that the program can continue because there is no evidence in any way, which frustrates hunters.

“There are better ways to improve hunter recruitment than kicking out a flock of pet birds. I’d like to see a little more responsibility. At this point it will go on for the next five years, ”Conyngham said.

As an FWP biologist specializing in migratory birds, Herbert has been active in trying to recruit bird hunters and has seen many improvements over the years in the social sciences of hunter recruitment, including the ability to analyze licensing data.

“We have developed an assessment based on age groups: at what age we are taking them in and where they are dropping out,” Herbert said. “The big problem with this current endeavor: it sounds good, but there is nothing here that is based on any kind of data we have in hand if anyone wanted to do an assessment before spending $ 1 million. (

Special Programs Director (FWP) Deb O’Niel told someone their success metric was the smiles on their faces. I thought “Fuck, you don’t spend a million dollars to see six smiles if you talk to 10 kids.” Performance metrics and success measures are missing in this whole thing. It amazes me that there is nothing here to tell a legislative analyst to watch and talk about whether this is successful or not. “

Pheasants have been released in the following wildlife management areas: Region 1: North Shore WMA; Foys Bend Fisheries Conservation Area Region 3: Canyon Ferry WMA, Lake Helena WMA Region 4: Freezout Lake WMA Region 5: Grant Marsh WMA, Yellowstone WMA Region 6: Vandalia WMA, Cree Crossing WMA, Sleeping Buffalo WMA, Fresno WMA, Rookery WMA Region 7: Isaac Homestead WMA

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist @ missoulacurrent.

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