Ring-necked pheasants, a non-native species, first caught my eye when I was a boy growing up in Southeastern Pennsylvania. My dad was a small game hunter, and he always wore their tail feathers in his hunting cap. The cock bird's crow was the first bird song I ever learned.
Pennsylvania's pheasant population peaked in 1971 when more than 700,000 hunters killed an estimated 1.3 million birds. It's been downhill ever since.
The state Game Commission (PGC) has been raising and releasing birds since 1915 when it released 1,000 purchased pheasants. In 1929 two game farms were established. Since then the agency has raised and released millions of pheasants simply because, as stated in the PGC's Pheasant Management Program, "people like to hunt them."
In a 1996 hunter survey, 61 percent wanted to see more pheasants stocked, and 72 percent opposed closing any game farms to save money. The Game Commission tries to please its constituents, the hunters who pay the bills, so pheasant propagation continued until the cost became prohibitive. In 1984, when it cost $6.57 per bird, the agency stocked nearly a half million. By 2007 the per bird cost had jumped to $20.27 and the program had been downsized to 100,000 birds per year.
In 2011, the cost per bird rose to $27.80, and 200,000 birds were released for the first time since 2004. With increased production this year, cost per bird is expected to decrease
"Thanks to monies from recent Marcellus Shale-related gas leases on state game lands, we have been able to return to the 200,000 bird level this year," wrote Carl Roe, PGC executive director.
I wonder if this is the best use for the unexpected windfall. Pheasant hunters will certainly approve, but spending money to raise and kill an exotic species sounds more like wildlife management in Texas than in Pennsylvania. Perhaps the funds could be used to acquire more state game lands, which benefit many native species and provide more hunting opportunities.
But if pheasants are such a high priority, why not funnel the extra funds into the state's 10-year Ring-necked Pheasant Management Plan? Its primary goal is to, "restore self-sustaining and huntable ring-necked pheasant populations in suitable habitats throughout Pennsylvania." Read more about the program at www.pgc.state.pa.us.
A self-sustaining pheasant population is an admirable objective. Raising birds to simply release and shoot is not.huntingfishing
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 AM WVLY (Wheeling), and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 AM WMNY (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Rd., Cameron, WV 26033.