Others’ opinion: Pheasant action plan is too costly

Published 8:58 am Thursday, September 24, 2015

Gov. Mark Dayton’s plan to rebuild the state’s pheasant habitat may not be a wise investment. Metro image

Gov. Mark Dayton’s plan to rebuild the state’s pheasant habitat may not be a wise investment. Metro image

St. Cloud Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

Are efforts to revive the state’s pheasant population worth millions of dollars in investment?

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Gov. Mark Dayton seems to think it is a wise investment of state taxpayers’ money.

We are skeptical.

Pheasants aren’t on the endangered species list. Pheasant hunting is popular, but isn’t a boon to the state economy like it is in South Dakota. A better pheasant population in Minnesota could keep more Minnesota hunters in the Gopher State rather than hunting South Dakota.

Recent Department of Natural Resources pheasant roadside counts have shown a 33 percent increase in the number of pheasants. But the 2015 pheasant index is 39 percent below the 10-year state average and 59 percent below the long-term average.



Using ideas from citizens suggested at a pheasant summit, Dayton recently outlined a proposal to help the pheasant population. The plan included:

— Enhance and protect habitat in areas at least 9 square miles large where at least 40 percent of the area can be permanently protected within four years.

— Increase the rate of enrollment and retention of private lands in short-term conservation programs and enrollment of permanent conservation easements.

— Accelerate acquisition of land to increase the amount of public land for hunting across the state’s pheasant range.

— Improve roadside management to optimize pheasant habitat.

All of these ideas sound wonderful. However, no exact price tag was placed on the proposal, and acquiring land won’t be cheap. Is this the best use of what could be tens of millions of dollars of public money?

Last session, the Legislature passed buffer legislation that establishes vegetation buffers along rivers, streams and ditches that will help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment. The DNR and private groups have applied for federal money and foundation grants for Walk-In areas and grassland habitat protection and management.

When lawmakers debated the increased buffer regulations, this board made the point that enforcement by counties is the most critical piece of that puzzle. If farmers plant fencepost to fencepost, these efforts will fail unless the rules are enforced.

There are three potential sources of funding for the pheasant plan. First, up to $40 million in capital bonding could be sought from the Legislature. Second, is Legacy Amendment money.

While the pheasant plan qualifies, is it the best use for possibly $100 million? What about money to restock walleye in Mille Lacs Lake? Wolf money? Buffalo money?

The pheasant “action plans” should be part of the state Agriculture Department’s budget. Counties in the pheasant range should also contribute. The pheasant range includes 63 of 87 counties.