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With population dwindling, state plans first-ever pheasant summit

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With pheasant numbers rapidly falling, Gov. Mark Dayton and other stakeholders will convene for a pheasant summit to develop long-term strategies for increasing the population – the first such meeting in Minnesota.

Dayton's office announced the summit Friday, saying hunters, farmers and conservationists would be among those attending. It iwll be held after the conclusion of the pheasant hunting season, which runs from Oct. 11 through Jan. 4, 2015, but more information about the date and location will be released in the upcoming weeks.

“For almost 60 years, I have enjoyed pheasant hunting in Minnesota,” said Dayton said in the release. “But the decisions we make today will determine whether future generations of Minnesotans will have those same opportunities.”

A dearth of pheasants

The DNR, on its ring-necked pheasant page, says keeping a stable pheasant population in Minnesota is "difficult."

In 2013, hunters harvested 169,000 pheasants in the state, and only 62,000 pheasant hunters went out – the lowest numbers in 27 years for both marks, the Star Tribune reported.

This year's outlook is better. The DNR says hunting conditions should be better, and an expected 200,000 pheasants will be bagged (less than half what it was between 2005 and 2008). The agency also says the state's pheasant population index is 6 percent above where it was a year ago.

However, the population numbers are still low – 58 percent below the 10-year average, and 71 percent below the long-term average, the DNR says.

A big reason for this is the environment.

The Duluth News Tribune reports grasslands – the pheasants' habitat – have often been converted to cropland by farmers hoping to capitalize on market prices in recent year. The paper also says federal programs that encourage farmers to keep grassland areas have fallen behind.

The Star Tribune said Minnesota lost more than 100 square miles in the pheasant range of grassland habitat.

The DNR noted in early September said the loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres was a factor in the declining grasslands,

The DNR also cites extreme winters as a cause for pheasant die-off, but says this past winter's bone-chilling cold didn't hit the pheasant range as hard – meaning the survival rate of the birds wasn't as poor.

You can read the DNR's August Roadside Survey report here. The agency also provides a hunting prospects map, which you can see below.

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Pheasants Forever, a group dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife, released a statement applauding the summit, calling it a "major step in the right direction." Dayton initially announced the summit at one of the organization's banquets, held Thursday.

“Wildlife habitat protection and creation takes collaboration," said Joe Duggan, Pheasants Forever’s vice president of corporate sales, "so we’re thrilled to see Governor Dayton bringing partners together from the state’s conservation and agricultural communities to find sustainable, long-term upland habitat solutions."

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