ONTARIO — Dave Stiefvater, habitat coordinator for the Malheur County chapter of Pheasants Forever, on Friday appealed to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to support recovery of upland game birds.
Addressing the commission during its meeting at the Four Rivers Cultural Center, Stiefvater, in prepared remarks, noted that for more than 30 years — from the 1950’s to the late 1980’s — the county was a destination place for upland game bird hunters, mainly pheasants, commenting they and chukars and quail were plentiful.
“For example in 1981, the last week of pheasant season, hunters could harvest three pheasants, of which two could be hens and one rooster,” his statement read.
“In the 2019 hunting season the bag limit was two roosters per day and a hunter would be lucky to harvest two during the entire season,” he said.
Stiefvater attributed the decline in numbers to loss of habitat and predators.
Pheasants depend on farm ground for cover, water and nesting, but over the last 50 years irrigation practices have changed three times, he said.
“Each time is a loss of habitat critical for upland game birds,” he said.
One change which could be beneficial is the move to install pivots, Stiefvater said, which leave non-irrigated corners that are not farmed. They could be planted into habitat that could benefit game birds, bees and other species, he said.
Good habitat includes, cover, nesting, food, water, winter food, and provides weed control and ongoing maintenance.
The plots are also beneficial to big game for forage during hard winters, he said.
“Hunting day opportunities are important along with healthy upland game bird populations,” Stiefvater said. “We can no longer assume our bird populations will be better.”