Hays Changes in farming practices are reducing habitat for pheasants and contributing to a long-term decline in the birds' population, conservation officials say.
From 1963 to 2002, the pheasant population in northwest Kansas dropped from 18.74 birds to 2.1 birds per 100 miles, according to the annual rural mail carriers survey.
Randy Rodgers, a biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks office in Hays, said "this isn't a case of blaming anyone." But he said the increased use of herbicides had reduced the vegetation that supports young pheasants.
He said there were several efforts under way to improve habitat, including a pilot program targeted at farmers in Thomas, Logan, Gove and Sheridan counties.
"A lot of that extra effort is education," Rodgers said, noting that Wildlife and Parks ordered thousands of videotapes showing how to improve habitat for pheasants. Those tapes were sent to every farmer in the four counties.
Rodgers said farmers in the four counties are encouraged to maintain a taller stubble height when they harvest crops to conserve moisture and provide a better habitat for young pheasants.
They also are being asked to seed Conservation Reserve Program land with broad-leaf plants such as alfalfa and sunflowers, and to plant grass-strip buffers to provide additional habitat.
"We hope that our effort can get a little bit of turnaround in these trends," Rodgers said of the declining population.
Though the long-term population trends are gloomy, Rodgers offered some good news for hunters as the Nov. 8 start of the pheasant season approaches.
The state's pheasant population more than doubled this year, according to a survey conducted by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
Rodgers attributed the increase to the rain and mild temperatures this spring at a time when the pheasants were nesting. Though the dry summer that followed wasn't favorable to the young pheasants, Rodgers said there was a "silver lining." He said the drought prompted many farmers not to use pesticides.
"There was a little bit of weed growth, which is better for the young broods," Rodgers said.