Pheasant hunters lose ground to productive farming.
Two decades of change have been at work on the landscape of Eastern Washington and upland bird populations – especially pheasants – are the losers.
Big farms grow crops to the shoulders of state highways. Windmills cover hillsides. Leaky irrigation systems have been improved. And largely gone are the brushy ditches, fence rows, weedy patches and too-steep-to-farm eyebrows that once dotted the landscape with habitat for birds, particularly pheasants.
Where there once was an idle field in the Yakima Valley, now there’s a crop of corn to produce ethanol. A weedy ridge towering over the Snake River now is laced with roads to access a group of wind turbines.
Eastern Washington’s 2013 pheasant harvest was among the lowest on record.
Brian Calkins, small-game manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, is hopeful the 2014 season will see an improvement.
“Based on winter and spring weather conditions, we are optimistic that our pheasant harvest will rebound,” Calkins told Pheasants Forever, a nationwide conservation group. “Adding to our habitat base, several thousand acres of permanent cover were seeded with forbs (broad leaf plants) in southeast Washington this year specifically to improve brood rearing habitat for pheasants.”
Eastern Washington also had a mild winter, relatively dry spring and dry summer, which likely will help with wild pheasant production.