A letter to the editor of this newspaper a year ago intrigued me with this woman complaining about “canned pheasant hunting” by the N.H. Fish and Game. Game farmed-raised birds are released at this time until Dec. 31 and are often quickly killed by those who know where they will be set free.

The pheasants don’t behave like wild birds, and those 64 locations where they are stocked are known by hunters with their dogs. Approximately 11,535 fowl are produced this way, and which have no survival skills.

The letter writer ascertained that hunters often kick at them to get them to take flight. Pheasant hunting licenses pay for these birds, but she complained the overhead costs for these staff come from our Fish and Game’s budget.

She further stated that animal cruelty results from some pheasants not surviving the journey from farm to field, arriving with broken wings, broken legs and other serious injuries.

I remember a story about a local Tamworth resident remaining in his truck bed and executing naive birds that approached him, thinking them a food source because of their upbringing. He shot all of them without guilt and actually did not get arrested for the deed.

I also learned long ago that not many ring-necks survive past winter in this region. So, if you see one mid-winter, it will probably not last long due to our deep snows.

Otherwise, ring-necked pheasants can prosper wherever the continental glacier once covered the land. There are some minerals in the soil that resulted from the ice sheet and birds are not found south of the line where glaciation did not occur.

When I was a lad in Rhode Island, they were quite common, and their harsh croaking was music to my ears. They liked grain stubble in harvested farm fields and that is where they exploded up during my wanderings after school.

Our family dog was a small cocker, and once this spaniel ran over a hen pheasant as we strode along in the taller grass. The speckled bird actually took off with the dog imprisoned on the back, much to her panic. She “yiked” and finally scrambled off, to great relief. I was impressed as the bird had gotten up to a few feet before the dog fell off.

Pheasant hunting is a big deal in the Great Plains and often a farm family moves out of their abode and lives in town while renting out the facilities. My friend who hunts then, flies up in a King Air with wealthy ball players in the back seat, renting 10,000 acres for a week at a time. This has become quite the economy for any agricultural community and is an important augmentation to their livelihood.

National Audubon magazine discussed all this recently and stated it is a big part of the federal farm bill funding (Conservation Reserve Program) to assist this enterprise of replacing low-producing crops with native plant species beneficial to wildlife. By getting into active habitat management for the wild pheasants, other bird species benefit.

Dickcissels and bobolinks need extensive grasslands for reproduction and native plants are introduced where agriculture solely used to occupy the land. Money is paid to the landowners, and there is enthusiasm by those participating in the project, which grows over time as they enjoy the songbirds eventually coming about. This can be a big contrast to the monoculture the states of Nebraska and the Dakotas commonly exhibit. The loss of grasslands out there can be appalling for birdlife numbers.

Each year, hunters who travel to pheasant country spend hundreds of millions of dollars leasing land from locals and paying for lodging and meals. This shores up farm communities and gives the farmers good reason for developing diverse wildlife habitat on the ground. The ring-necked pheasant has become a flagship bird helping carry the weight of grassland conservation across huge portions of country, offering a life-line for native birds.

Landowners now take advantage of state and federal programs to retain native prairie, plant native grasses, trees, keep row crops off the landscape, and put in dense wintering bird cover. Some sportsmen buy thousands of acres of South Dakota farmland and turn them into pheasant havens, assisted by game biologists. An oasis for wildlife results, with sunflower, corn and sorghum food plots accidentally creating a bird sanctuary, too.

Sprague’s pipit, Baird’s sparrow and Chestnut-collared longspur need large, open grasslands and are some of the species benefitted. A holistic approach in the landowner’s minds results. And planting native species that support pollinating insects in turn supports grassland birds’ foraging. Drained wetlands can be restored, enabling prairie ducks to reproduce, too.

Billions of dollars from the Conservation Reserve Program impact millions of acres for the wildlife and natural resources here, and Congress needs to keep this going.

Dave Eastman also broadcasts “Country Ecology” four times weekly over WMWV 93.5 FM. As vice president of the Lakes Region Chapter/ASNH, he welcomes you to monthly programs at the Loon Center in Moultonborough. He is available at: cebirdman@yahoo.com (or) countryecology.com for consultation.

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