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The Case of the Disappearing Pheasant

For hunters in Iowa, a worrisome decline in pheasant populations has been seen across the state for a number of years.  In fact, according to this article from The New York Times, surveys show that the population in 2012 was the second lowest on record, 81 percent below the average over the past four decades.

The reasons for this precipitous drop in pheasant populations are multifaceted.  While natural causes like excessively damp weather and animal predators factor into the decline, economic and cultural trends have had a significantly greater impact.  Indeed, with rising farm values and commodity prices, landowners across the state (and the nation) have been clearing away prime habitat in order to maximize the agricultural production of their lands.  The trend is so widespread that the top seven pheasant hunting states have seen sizable declines in the number of pheasant shot and the number of pheasant hunters over the past five years.

At the same time, and likely because of the rising commodity prices, the amount of land in the Agriculture Department’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has dropped to 29.5 million acres from a peak of 36.7 million in 2007.   Under the program, the government pays landowners to plant parts of their land with grasses and other vegetation that creates wildlife habitat.

Luckily for landowners who wish to preserve this habitat, there are many sources of revenue that can be cultivated through the implementation of conservation practices.  From programs like the Conservation Reserve Program and many others like it, landowners can receive annual payments from public agencies.  Since that same habitat being promoted through the CRP yields prime hunting grounds, landowners can also generate revenue through fishing and hunting access fees.  On top of that, landowners can also take advantage of the monetization of ecosystem services on their land.  And the list of possible revenue streams goes on and on!  (To read more about this topic, check out our two-part series on Investing in Your Legacy.)

If you were able to get outside for a hunt, a ride, or perhaps some fishing during the holiday season, we’d love to hear your stories (and see your photos, of course)!

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