The once-ubiquitous pheasant is slowly, inexorably disappearing from the Iowa landscape; a victim of climate, high commodity prices, declining CRP enrollment and changing land-use practices. And sadly, so is the pheasant hunter.

From this story in The New York Times:
The pheasant, once king of Iowa’s nearly half-a-billion-dollar hunting industry, is vanishing from the state. Surveys show that the population in 2012 was the second lowest on record, 81 percent below the average over the past four decades. The loss, pheasant hunters say, is both economic and cultural. It stems from several years of excessively damp weather and animal predators. But the factor inciting the most emotion is the loss of wildlife habitat as landowners increasingly chop down their brushy fields to plant crops to take advantage of rising commodity prices and farmland values.

According to the story, Iowa has lost more than 1.6 million acres of pheasant habitat, the equivalent of a nine-mile-wide strip of land stretching practically the width of the state. But Iowa is not alone. Each of the top seven pheasant hunting states have seen steep declines in both pheasant numbers and pheasant hunters.

The overall amount of land enrolled in the Agriculture Department’s Conservation Reserve Program has dipped to 29.5 million acres from a peak of 36.7 million in 2007. Under the program, the government pays owners a certain rate to plant parts of their land with grass and other vegetation that create a wildlife habitat. Land in the program is most suitable for pheasants and other upland game, and owners often make it available for hunting. But as the price of corn and other crops has risen, so have land values, and the rates paid by the government under the program have been unable to keep up.

Thoughts? When was the last time you went pheasant hunting?