Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Farmer Helps Pheasants Rebound Growing New Habitat Helps Birds Thrive

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Farmer Helps Pheasants Rebound Growing New Habitat Helps Birds Thrive

Article excerpt

JERRY HEINZ STEPS out of his truck and leads a visitor to a corner of his farm where yields and crop prices simply don't matter.

On the left is switch grass, a shoulder-high plant that sways gracefully in the summer breeze. In the middle is alfalfa. On the right is milo, the heads full of maturing seeds.

This is pheasant country.

"This is attractive," Heinz says. "This is survival."

Young farmers such as Heinz, 33, are responsible for the revival of pheasants in Central Illinois. New attitudes about conservation, coupled with government land programs, are leading to fresh habitat across the Midwest for the popular bird.

From Kansas to the Dakotas to Michigan, advocates give much credit to a federal law that discourages farmers from raising crops on highly erodible land. Instead of dragging machinery across the soil each year, farmers can plant various seeds and then leave the area undisturbed for pheasants to discover.

"It has improved pheasant population across the national range," says Jay Johnson, special projects director for Pheasants Forever in St. Paul, Minn. The group, founded in 1982 to fight the declining number of pheasants, now has 440 local chapters.

Highly erodible soil is not as common in Illinois as it is elsewhere. But 340 farmers in Champaign and Douglas counties voluntarily drop seed along roadsides and on land that cannot support corn and soybeans.

Alfalfa produces a summer nesting cover. Switch grass, with stalks strong enough to resist snowstorms, provides the winter shelter. Milo supplies food.

"We can stand here and see everything our chapter has been involved in," says Heinz, president of the local Pheasants Forever.

State biologists reported seeing about 66 pheasants for every 100 miles of roadside in August, up 70 percent over last year. In Illinois, the bird's range runs mostly from Charleston north to the Wisconsin border, with some broods found west of the Illinois River. …

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