by Bailey Kozalla, sports editor
In order to hunt pheasants in Pennsylvania in the fall, adult hunters will need to purchase a permit to hunt the birds along with their yearly license. In an attempt to increase revenue, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has created the $25 permit, and reduce the $4.7 million cost by $1.5 million to stock the pheasants every year.
Along with the admission of the permit, two of the four pheasant farms have closed, including the Western Game Farm in Cambridge Springs. Eight PGC employees lost their jobs at this farm, reducing $1.7 million from the annual budget.
According to the PGC website, the primary goal of raising and stocking pheasants is to “provide a quality game bird for regulated hunting opportunities.” However, some areas of the program had to be cut. Since 1998, the licenses haven’t been increased to cope with inflation, which led the PGC to cut down on some programs. The pheasant program happened to be one of them. This was the only way to keep the program in place. Pheasant populations peaked in 1971, when more than 700,000 hunters harvested an estimated 1.3 million birds. Last year, about 240,000 pheasants were harvested. The reason so many pheasants were harvested in the seventies lies within the discontinued Soil Bank, and Feed Grain Program. These federal programs idled areas of cropland from production that are vital to nesting pheasants. Approximately 716,000 acres of farmland was lost to urban development in the end of the twentieth century.
The state relies on an artificial pheasant population to be created, as the original thriving population in the 1960s and 1970s diminished. In the past, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was created to sustain pheasant populations on private farmland. Approximately one percent of farm fields in Pennsylvania are CRP managed. An updated federal version, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), was created to improve farmland species in joint with Pheasants Forever, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, county conservation districts, and Duck Unlimited. However, the current trends in pheasant habitat will make it very difficult in the coming years to restore thriving pheasants. Restoring these game birds will not only keep the sport alive, but it will also improve water quality, reduce soil erosion, and assist other native species, thus securing the future of farmland species in Pennsylvania.