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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - October 26, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta Hunting bans, preserves don't save pheasants By DENNIS McDONALD Fith art Wildlife j 13th of 45 Every time pheasant pop- ulations plunge to low levels, hundreds of well-meaning peo- ple suggest closure of the hunting season and establish- ment of pheasant preserves. Such actions are presumably intended to save the birds from being shot so they can be 1 stock piled, thereby building the population back up to a desirable level. Unfortunately, this belief is ill founded. It assumes that hunting controls the number of pheasants and that pheasants can be stock piled from one year to the next. Botft these ideas are simply not true! As explained earlier in this series, natural mortality amcfog pheasants commonly exceeds 80 per cent in pop- illations which are not hunted. Thus, four of every five pheasants born each year will die due to natural causes such as bfed weather, predators, ac- cidents, etc. Hunting mortali- ty substitutes for natural mor- tality such that the over all. mortality rate of the popula- tiomis not increased. In other words, the birds killed by hunters are for the most part those" which would die from natural causes anyway. The only way that "cocks only" seasons can prevent the rapid recovery of the pheasant population is by reducing the number of cocks to such low numbers that breeding success is impaired the following spring. Nowhere in North America hi over half a century of pheasant hunting have hunters ever reduced the numbers of cocks so low that breeding of hens was impaired the following year! "Cocks only" seasons simply cannot harm pheasant production, when the population level is low, because hunters always give up when cock numbers are too few for good hunting but more than ade- quate for good reproduction. affect pheasant production the following spring if more than 45 per cent of the fall hen pop- ulation is taken by hunters. Unless this happens, however, hen hunting will, net significantly affect the rate of recovery of a population from a decline such as that recently experienced in Alberta. Pheasant preserves and closed seasons accomplish one thing. They enable more pheasants to survive through the fall to go into the whiter. QUALITY DENTURE CLINIC CwtMMd Dtntal Mechanic PHONE But winter is the bottleneck which prevents this surplus of birds from surviving until the following spring. As outlined previously in this series, dur- ing the winter, the carrying capacity of pheasant habitat is severely reduced. The birds which occupied thousands of acres of cropland, brush and grassland throughout the summer months are now forc- ed to seek shelter in much smaller wintering areas where adequate shelter and cover are available. It makes little difference whether 1000 birds survive through the fall during a clos- ed season or only SOD birds survive after an open season if the winter habitat can only support 100 birds. The net result will be the same in each case: no more than 100 birds will survive to breed the following spring. The important difference is that, in the latter case, some of the surplus birds will have been "utilized by hunters while, in the former case, all the birds protected from hunting will be wasted" to predators, blizzards and other causes of winter mortality. During years when pheasant numbers are so low that fall populations are at or below the carrying capacity level of the winter habitat, then and only then; should hunting be restricted to ensure that as many hens as possible survive to breed the following spring. Even during these years, "cocks only" hunting should be permitted to harvest the surplus of cocks and improve the sex ratio for breeding next year. By removing surplus cocks, more space is made available for bens to occupy the available winter habitat and further increase next years-production. For example, a wintering area capable of supporting 100 birds would typically contain 50 cocks and SO hens following a closed season or 20 cocks and 80 hens after a "cocks only" season. Even under perfect conditions, only SO broods produced from (he former population but up to 80 broods could batch in the latter case. Pheasant preserves have es- sentially the same effect as closed seasons upon pheasant populations. They do little to improve population, levels from one year to the next; they simply save pheasants from hunters during the fall so they can be destroyed by blizzards, predators, ac- cidents other natural fac- tors during the whiter. To significantly increase pheasant production, habitat preserves rather than phea- sant preserves are the answer! 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