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Why Are Wild Pheasants on the Decline?

Carrie Wilson Author badge, myoutdoorbuddy.com

ild pheasants in the Sacramento Valley have been in steep decline for many years and very little effort, if any, is being made to help this once-abundant game bird make a comeback. Improved habitat conditions, a reduced season and lowered bag limits could help them recover. What was the Fish and Game Commission thinking when they raised the limit and extended the season to what it is today? (Wally S., Westlake)

Answer: One of the factors you mentioned was that improved habitat conditions could help, and that’s true. The decline in wild pheasant population numbers is primarily a result of habitat loss and fragmentation. Pheasant populations are still plentiful in the larger Midwestern states, primarily because those states rely on private lands programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program funded by the Farm Bill. This program provides subsidies to landowners to fallow their land and grow grasses and other vegetation that make good wildlife habitat. These programs also provide habitat corridors between public and private lands that are critical for pheasants to move. In the Central Valley, rice and other crops have higher values than the crops grown in the mid-west and so the economic incentives for landowners in California to modify their farming practices to benefit wildlife habitat are not there.

Man with rifle, kneeling with is hunter dog while holding the pheasant he killed. Photo by Jeff Cann
The decline in wild pheasant numbers is primarily a result of habitat loss and fragmentation. For pheasant populations to recover and thrive once again, more improved available habitat must be developed. (Photo by Jeff Cann)

According to CDFW Senior Upland Game Scientist Scott Gardner, the general pheasant hunting season was increased by three weeks about 10 years ago because CDFW knew that few people continued to hunt wild pheasants after the opening weekend and the first few weeks of the season. The scientific literature suggests that rooster-only harvest has little effect on population growth, so this increase was not expected to have any effect on pheasant population growth. CDFW is currently working with Pheasants Forever and United States Geological Survey scientists to study pheasant population dynamics and identify factors limiting their populations. If the data suggests that reductions in pheasant hunting are needed, CDFW will make those recommendations to the Fish and Game Commission.

However, pheasant populations will not come back to their former levels through reductions in hunting alone. In order for wild pheasant populations to recover and thrive again, more available improved habitat is a must. This means more quality grasslands and small shrub habitat to provide undisturbed areas for cover, feeding, nesting and brood-rearing, along with travel corridors between fields and other habitats to allow them access to move around.

Using crabs to catch more crabs?
Question: It is legal for boaters fishing crab traps to pull their limit of 10 Dungeness crabs and then leave any extra legal-sized crabs in the pot for harvesting the next day? Those crabs left in the trap may help encourage other crabs to load up in the traps to take another day. Is there anything illegal about this? (Jayna S.)

Answer: It is not legal for someone to take their limit and leave additional crabs in their trap(s). Sport fishermen are allowed 10 Dungeness crabs per day and in possession. It doesn’t matter where the crabs are being held, whether on board a boat or in a trap or at home in the freezer. If they are being confined and held in a trap for another day, it is still considered “possession” and counts toward their limit.

Legal limits of take
Question: I don’t get to go fishing that often, so I am wondering if I am fortunate enough to get a limit of fish in the morning and I put those fish on ice in the truck, can I then go back out in the afternoon to catch more? I often travel around 100 miles to go fishing, and with the economy as bad as it is, I can’t go often. Is this legal? Thanks. (Ron F.)

Answer: I can understand you wanting to maximize your fishing experience and harvest due to the troubled economy, however, a “bag limit” means the total that you can take in one day. And “possession limit” is usually the same as your bag limit (at least in ocean waters), so you are only allowed to possess one bag limit at any one time. In order to collect more, you will need to either consume or give away what you have and then fish on another day for more, up to the bag limit allowed.

Laminate my license?
Question: Is it okay to laminate my license to protect it and keep it from getting dirty and tattered? (Joe P., Merced)

Answer: Licenses should never be heat laminated as this will destroy the license. If exposed to extreme heat, licenses will darken and become discolored. However, a discolored license is still valid as long as the text and signature are still readable.

Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

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