More Habitat, More Birds Lincoln Journal Star By Joe Duggan Sunday, February 7, 2010
KEARNEY - Finding public land to hunt pheasants and quail in Nebraska is easy enough.
Finding outstanding habitat and excellent bird numbers on public lands isnâ€™t as easy.
A new partnership between the stateâ€™s largest nonprofit upland conservation group and the Game and Parks Commission seeks to improve habitat and hunting on some of that public land.
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, along with the commission, Saturday announced the Habitat Share Program at the State Habitat Meeting in Kearney. About 300 PF and QF members attended the event, the largest of its kind in the state. Another 100 failed to make it because of snow-covered roads in eastern Nebraska.
In its first year, the Habitat Share Program will spend $600,000 to improve 38 state wildlife management areas in the Sandhills and south-central Nebraska, said Jeff Hoffman, assistant administrator of the commissionâ€™s wildlife division.
PF and QF have worked with Game and Parks in the CRP-MAP program, which pays private landowners to do habitat improvements and allow walk-in public hunting.
â€œThis is unprecedented when weâ€™re looking at the public land side of it,â€ Hoffman said.
Both the nonprofit organizations and the commission hope to continue the program in future years and spread the habitat work to other regions, said Pete Berthelsen, senior field coordinator for PF and QF. Nebraska has 270 wildlife management areas encompassing 160,000 acres.
PF and QF raised $150,000 through the Reload Nebraska program to make their contribution to the habitat program, Berthelsen said. Game and Parks used the contribution to obtain a 3-to-1 match from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Wildlife Restoration Fund. The federal fund receives money from excise taxes on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment.
â€œIn very quick order - within a month - weâ€™ll be putting those dollars into the ground,â€ Berthelsen said.
Hoffman explained that the commission had maxed out its budget for habitat work, so the money from the habitat groups allowed it to qualify for funds that were left sitting on the table.
The commission has hired a private contractor to do the habitat work, which will include cedar tree removal, disking invasive grasses, seeding desirable grasses and plants, and planting food plots, Hoffman explained.
Because mature grasses and invading cedars are common on these areas, the goal will be to restore nesting and brood-rearing cover that suits pheasants, quail and other grassland birds. Fields with a high diversity of grasses, broad-leaved plants, overhead cover and ground space do much more to encourage nesting and brood survival.
The project will work on six wildlife management areas in the Sandhills and 32 areas in south-central Nebraska.
Lynn Berggren, the Game and Parks commissioner who represents the Sandhills region, said he has been working on a concept for the program since he came on the commission in 2007. The agency hasj ust five full-time wildlife staff for the entire region, which means they can only get to a fraction of the public land each year.
â€œI just want to get more work done on WMAs and more volunteers involved,â€ he said.
During the question-and-answer session following the announcement, several people voiced support for the concept.
â€œYouâ€™ve given us the keys to the door to help,â€ said Sam Sampson, a PF member from Lincoln.
But two others raised questions about the commissionâ€™s use of cattle grazing on public lands. They said cattle are left too long and do too much damage to habitat.
Grazing will continue to be a management tool the agency uses to set back mature grasses on wildlife management areas, Hoffman said. But he said the grazing should be high intensity and in short durations so the habitat isnâ€™t degraded.