Once commonly and passionately pursued by hunters, wild ring-necked pheasants long ago disappeared from most of Pennsylvania.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures
July figures to be a pretty big months for wild pheasants in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission, in partnership with Pheasants Forever, has worked over the last eight years or so to re-establish populations of wild pheasants in a handful of recovery areas.
One of those areas, known as the Central Susquehanna, is performing well. In spots, pheasant densities are close to what existed on the landscape in the 1970s, said Scott Klinger, a wildlife biologist with the commission.
That’s proof that restoring wild pheasants is possible, he said.
Things aren’t gone nearly as well anywhere else. The goal is to get to 10 hens per square mile, he noted.
“We don’t have any study areas as of 2016 where pheasants have gone to zero. On any of the areas,” Klinger said.
“But our pheasant management plan calls for establishing huntable populations. Now what does that mean? I think it means a lot higher than one hen per square mile. That’s not going to be tolerated.”
July may determine how much longer the commission keeps trying to turn that around.
Its own report on the wild pheasant recovery effort is due then. Klinger said he hopes to have it by July 31.
Also due that month, and maybe more interestingly, a graduate student named Lacey Williamson is to submit a report looking at where in Pennsylvania it might be possible to restore birds, in what numbers and at what cost.
“When we get this model, we’ll be able to apply it to the entire state of Pennsylvania, and with it we’ll be able to tell you how many pheasants we can produce on that landscape right now,” Klinger said.
“Now, across Pennsylvania, the answer might not be what we want to hear. It might be very low.”
That’s what the success – or lack of it – with the wild pheasant recovery area program might suggest.
It’s true that aside from the Central Susquehanna and Somerset recovery areas, none of the others ever received the full 900 wild “seed” birds they were intended to get, Klinger said.
They didn’t get any this year either. The commission had hoped to import birds from South Dakota, but – with wild populations there in a down cycle, and 25 percent below the norm – Klinger said wildlife officials in that state declined to provide any.
Even so, none of the study areas outside of the Central Susquehanna have performed as hoped, Klinger added.
Some additional work is being done on the Somerset area this spring to check that. Volunteers asked for that and the commission will comply.
Certainly after this summer, though, the commission board will have to make “some tough decisions” on wild pheasants and recovery efforts, Klinger said.
He did not seem optimistic.
The time to help species like pheasants and even bobwhite quail is when they start to face trouble, he said. Otherwise, restoration efforts become a “monumental struggle.”
“Unfortunately for our ring-necked pheasants and northern bobwhite quail, in many cases, we have waited too long,” Klinger said.