Pheasant hunting still important in southwest Minnesota

This weekend, Marshall will be hosting the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Opener for the second time. This is a boost for Marshall for a couple reasons. First, Gov. Mark Dayton’s visit will shed a spotlight on Marshall and the surrounding areas. Second, it also promotes southwest Minnesota as an attractive place for hunters to visit and boost the local economy.

Southwest Minnesota has always been a destination spot for pheasant hunting. However, pheasant hunting isn’t what it used to be for a number of reasons. The bird population is declining and so is the number of hunters still participating in the sport.

According to Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Dennis Anderson, pheasant hunters still pump an estimated $100 million yearly into the state’s rural economy. So Gov. Dayton and the Department of Natural Resources, supported by hunting enthusiasts, have been aggressively addressing the habitat issue. Three years ago, Dayton announced a plan to restore Minnesota’s pheasant population and the nearly century-old hunting tradition it supports.

The announcement of that 10-point plan followed the first-ever Minnesota Pheasant Summit in Marshall. Gov. Dayton, a lifelong pheasant hunter, convened the summit, citing his own passion for making improvements for the future.

The Minnesota landscape once had 18 million acres of prairie, but just over 1 percent of that remains today. Most of that habitat loss is primarily attributed to farming and development. Those attending the first-ever summit hoped to find some balance between agriculture and protecting habitat for pheasants. It’s estimated that more than 800,000 Minnesotans take part in pheasant hunting annually. But on the other side, agriculture is the largest engine driving the economy in southwest Minnesota.

Hunting enthusiasts will need to continue to work with agriculture landowners now and in the future. Landowners are helping to maintain pheasant habitats in a number of ways. A new state buffer law requires these landowners to maintain buffer strips along public waterways. The state last week declared a 94 percent compliance rate among landowners. Fortunately, these buffer strips end up being potential habitats for pheasants.

The walk-in access program is also helping to re-energize hunting in the region. The program allows hunters access to 26,700 acres of private land across 46 counties in western and south central Minnesota. The walk-in access program pays landowners to allow hunters access.

As long as there is cooperation with farmers and other landowners, hunting should continue to thrive in southwest Minnesota