Bourjaily: Pheasant Numbers

I saw a ton of pheasants in South Dakota last week, and not just at the lodge where we hunted (on those places, managers are required to stock more birds than their clients shoot). Driving from Seneca back to Aberdeen, we saw lots of wild pheasants on the roadsides and in the fields. What I saw seems to match up with the forecast for almost all of the pheasant belt, which you can read on the Pheasants Forever website. In a nutshell, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and northwest Iowa all have plenty of birds. Most of Iowa, including my part, was under ice and snow all winter and rain all spring. The Iowa DNR's August roadside survey showed bird numbers to be way down in all but the northwest portion of the state.

The PF forecast goes on to give us the bad news for the future. Increased corn production, in large part for ethanol fuels, means thousands upon thousands of acres are coming out of CRP, which has been responsible for the pheasant populations of the last fifteen or twenty years. Like it or not, pheasants are basically wildlife on welfare. Government spending on CRP created the boom (as the Soil Bank created the previous boom in the 60s) and without fields of grass, we won't have birds. I can't bring myself to be completely optimistic about the future possibility of cellulose-based fuels made from native grasses, either. My fear is, they will be harvested every year just in time to leave birds without cover for the fall and winter.

I am glad to have hunted through the Good Old Days, but I worry that they're over. Am I being too gloomy?