No plan to restore Minnesota’s pheasants will be forthcoming at Friday’s annual Department of Natural Resources “roundtable’’ for invited stakeholders, according to Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
He had said at the conclusion of the Pheasant Summit held last month in Marshall his agency would refine habitat-development suggestions offered at the first-ever conference, develop a plan to implement the suggestions, and bring the plan to the roundtable.
Landwehr also said the DNR would develop metrics and goals that can be evaluated in a pheasant-habitat “report card’’ that will be assessed at future roundtables.
“We’ll measure our progress over the next four years,’’ Landwehr said at the summit — the duration of Gov. Mark Dayton’s term.
But last week, in response to a question asking whether a pheasant plan would be forthcoming at the roundtable, Landwehr said in an e-mail:
“It will be a more thorough presentation of what came out of the summit, but not the final plan. I think it will present the key actions that will be pursued, but given the short timeline, we haven’t had a chance to fully flesh it out [especially with partners]. We will be convening a broader steering committee to flesh it out in the next couple of months. Given that there are some key short-term items that can be pursued [before completion of plan, and possibly for action this legislative session], those will be identified and implemented while the plan is being finalized.’’
Instead, at the roundtable, Landwehr will discuss “takeaways from the pheasant summit,’’ while Dayton will deliver the meeting’s opening remarks.
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Dayton had directed the DNR to organize the summit after the idea was suggested to the governor at Game Fair by retired Star Tribune outdoors columnist and Minnesota Bound TV host Ron Schara.
Minnesota’s pheasant population has plummeted in recent years. Just 62,000 pheasant hunters went afield in Minnesota in 2013, and they killed only 169,000 roosters, the lowest harvest in 27 years.
That same year, the pheasant population index was 64 percent below the 10-year average and 72 percent below the long-term average.
A major reason is the loss of hundreds of thousands of Conservation Reserve Program acres.
In an open letter to pheasant hunters more than three years ago, in October 2011, Landwehr, citing the loss of CRP acres, said, “To see what Minnesota’s pheasant future might hold, look no further than Iowa, which is predicted to have its lowest pheasant harvest in history.’’
Added Landwehr, “I want to assure you, however, that prairie conservation is a high priority for my administration.’’
But on Jan. 10 in the Star Tribune, Landwehr acknowledged Minnesota farmland conservation during his four years as commissioner has grown worse.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat that,’’ he said. “Since the mid-’90s, when we started losing CRP, the trend has been down and the future is pretty bleak. If we want to reclaim some of the lost habitat, we will have to put a lot of money into it. We have the programs to do it. But it would be extraordinarily expensive and would take a long time.’’
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A key issue at the pheasant summit was whether the Dayton administration intends to address widespread noncompliance by farmers of the state’s waterway buffering laws.
Grass or other buffers are required along many farmland streams and other waters to reduce erosion and runoff and to provide wildlife habitat. But enforcement in many instances lies with local governments, whose boards and commissions have been hesitant to require compliance.
At the summit, Dayton’s agriculture commissioner, Dave Frederickson, seemed reluctant to some in attendance to encourage enforcement of the buffering law — this at a meeting that his boss, the governor, not only called but attended.
Thus, Minnesota’s Conservation Elephant In The Room:
Namely that no one in state government, including, ironically, the DNR and its commissioner, and probably also the governor, has the hutzpah to challenge big agriculture, little agriculture, or for that matter, any agriculture, on farming’s adverse effects on the state’s resources, especially its water.
To believe otherwise is to believe that Landwehr, a trained wildlife biologist who years ago toiled for the DNR in the habitat trenches of west-central Minnesota, somehow needed a pheasant summit to tell him the nature of the state’s farmland conservation problems, and to tell him as well how to fix those problems.
Landwehr said in advance of the summit, “I would rather have three or four very concrete action items [out of the summit] that the department could move forward with and will have significant benefits — that’s what I’m hoping for.’’
After four years in office, Landwehr and other DNR wildlife professionals needed someone to give them “three or four very concrete action items’’ his department could move forward with?
No thinking hunter, angler or other Minnesota conservationist believes this stuff.
Yet to be welcome in the state’s giant “conservation’’ cabal, many members of which will be at the roundtable Friday, including not only the DNR, but politicians, certain wildlife groups and, yes, some members of the outdoors press, one is expected to swallow this claptrap hook, line and sinker.
Go along to get along.
That’s what we do in Minnesota, where action to conserve the state’s remaining resources can always wait a few more months, or a few more years.
This state has the meager pheasant numbers it deserves.