Most of my traveling so far this year has been to promote pheasant cooperatives in conjunction with General CRP signup. On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending an event that not only promoted pheasant cooperatives, CRP, and the Five Year Anniversary of MPRI, but also kicked off the start of two pheasant cooperatives in Monroe County! Tom Horney and Dave Heatherly, with massive assistance from the Monroe Pheasants Forever Chapter and Erick Elgin, a new habitat biologist with the Monroe Conservation District, hosted the event. There were over 100 people in attendance, including State Senator, Dale Zorn, Zach Cooley with DNR, and the Monroe County Drain Commissioner, David Thompson. Speakers from the Nature Conservancy, Farm Service Agency, and Natural Resource Conservation Service shared on different avenues we can take to protect our soil, water, and wildlife.
On Saturday, we kicked off the first ever Pheasant Rendezvous at MUCC Headquarters in Lansing. We had representatives from almost all of the pheasant cooperatives, including leadership from some of the developing cooperatives. Several Pheasant Forever chapters sent representatives as well, creating a really great environment to share ideas and learn more about habitat management.
The event was kicked off by Russ Mason, Chief of the Wildlife Division. He talked about the great accomplishments of the Pheasant Initiative, and emphasized the importance of cooperatives in expanding pheasant habitat and small game hunting opportunities. Russ explained that cooperatives create the community, or fellowship, needed to provide a mentoring environment where new hunters can learn what it means to be a hunter and wildlife manager. Small game hunting, pheasant hunting included, is a great way to get people into hunting, and cooperatives is a great model to accomplish expanded outreach to new hunters, along with getting habitat on the ground to support a diverse set of wildlife critters: game and non-game alike.
Next, the first five years of the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative was highlighted by Al Stewart, upland game specialist with DNR. I think the best way to summarize the accomplishments is like this: 10 pheasant cooperatives! We have already met and surpassed the cooperative goals of the initiative - and have plans of seeing many more pheasant cooperatives form in Michigan. On top of that, hundreds of thousands of acres have been turned into quality grassland habitat! For more information, please check out the Accomplishments Report by clicking here.
After talking about the accomplishments of the Pheasant Initiative, we talked about what the pheasant cooperatives have accomplished - including youth events, habitat days, and much more. We then lead into breaking into small groups to discuss what works well and what ideas have for growing and expanding cooperatives further.
Mark Sargent provided a great mini into to training hunting dogs over lunch. Afterwards, Rich with Camp Liberty talked about the programs their camp does with our Veterans to provide access to hunting opportunities and getting out in nature. There is a lot of healing and restoration that occurs when these guys are able to get outside and just be.
Jason Myers, one of our Farm Bill Biologists, provided a great overview of CRP, and some practical tips for talking with neighbors about installing CRP practices on their properties. Two that stuck out were to suggest that areas of low crop productivity be turned into CRP, and the other being to use CRP to square off less desirable areas so that it makes lines clean cut and easy to plant and move equipment around.
Dan Potter, Habitat Chair for Barry County Pheasants Forever, spoke about talking to deer hunters about grassland habitat. His presentation was titled “Talking to Deer Hunters about habitat - from a Bird Brain Perspective.” His applicable and entertaining presentation talked about finding bridges between different perspectives, and to my excitement, he suggested coffee be used as a starting point of common ground! Below are the key points Dan provided:
-Winter cover is what we need for pheasants.
-Bedding cover is what we need for deer. Escape cover. Thermal cover. Fawning cover.
-The same grasses meet the above needs for both pheasants and deer.
”By managing grasslands for pheasants, you are already managing them for deer! And the opposite is true as well, which is why we need to get deer people involved in grassland management.” - Dan Potter
Some other tips Dan provided included:
-Keep an open mind
-Look at neighbors as your partner, not merely as a means to do things YOUR way
-Involve other topics in your joint discussions
-Keep it fun
All in all, it was a great event with people who seem to be passionate about hunting pheasants, training bird dogs, and seeing habitat improve on the landscape.