The backbone of Pheasants Forever is the unique system of county chapters that provides incentive for chapter leaders to raise money for pheasant habitat in their own area. All net funds (100%) raised by chapters remains at the local level.
Local control of the funds and the freedom to spend those funds means county-by-county prioritization of habitat needs. Local control means access to the network of contacts that chapter leaders have to the landowning public and to natural resources professionals. Local control means there is an incredible incentive to raise more to do more, and to wisely shepherd funds. Local control also means the ability to generate tremendous support from both the general membership and local businesses by presenting a product that local sportsmen and women can see, touch and walk on.
Pheasants Forever concentrates its habitat project efforts on fulfilling the biological needs of the ringneck, as well as on the preservation of permanent areas for wildlife. The habitat restoration programs of Pheasants Forever chapters consist of five major project types: 1. Nesting Cover, 2. Food Plots, 3. Woody Cover, 4. Land Purchases, 5. Wetland Restoration.
Of the several keys to solid pheasant populations - secure nesting cover, adequate brood stock and favorable weather - only one has the significance of building the foundation for the coming generation of pheasants. Nesting cover is the single most important habitat-limiting factor for pheasant populations - and the one factor that we can control and affect. A prerequisite for nesting is secure, undisturbed habitat where grass and herbaceous plants are the dominant vegetation. Early nests are almost always established in dead residual vegetation left from the previous growing season. Later, hens select sites in new growth in fencerows, pastures, small-grains, idle areas or hay. Incubation chores end by mid-July for most hens, but attempts to re-nest continue if initial nests are destroyed.
Nesting cover must provide protection from predators. That requires dense, erect vegetation at least eight to 12 inches in height. Cool and warm-season grasses (referring to the temperatures in which the grass grows best) can fit that bill. Either type should be undisturbed until mid-July to allow nests to hatch. Idle grass fields also produce abundant insects for young chicks and cover for other wildlife.
The principle objective of food and cover plots is to establish safe foraging patterns that restrict unnecessary movements and provide a dependable source of food to help carry female birds through the winter in good condition. It also helps to underscore the importance of establishing food plots closely adjacent to existing winter cover. Otherwise, the plots must provide significant cover in addition to being a source for food.
Corn and grain sorghum are generally accepted as the most appropriate and reliable food sources. Soybeans, millets, wheat, rye and buckwheat, although good sources of food, tend to lodge and get buried by snow, making them less reliable food sources and forcing the birds into the open in order to utilize them.
After selecting a food plot variety, the two most critical factors to consider are the size and location of the plot. It is not uncommon for blizzards to fill the outer 25-50 rows of standing corn or sorghum in a single storm. Large (3-10 acre) food plots are most desirable for countering winter blizzards.
Farmstead shelterbelts have long been a feature of the Midwestern landscape sheltering wildlife, livestock and farmsteads from winter's harsh grip. A well-designed shelterbelt provides loafing, feeding, roosting and escape cover for ring-necked pheasants and other wildlife. Shelterbelts should be designed to contain 10 or more rows of trees and shrubs primarily on the north and west sides of farmsteads. The shrubs are planted in the outermost rows to catch drifting snow, while the tall, center deciduous (which lose their leaves each fall) "lift" the chilling winds above the farmstead. Conifers (evergreens) are on the inside four rows and effectively reduce the remaining wind and drifting snow.
Critical habitat such as native prairie grasslands and wetlands must be preserved. Acquisitions of wildlife management areas open to public hunting and species preservation have become a priority for conservationists. Pheasants Forever has spent over $24 million purchasing 97,000 acres of land in 834 different projects and land acquisitions as permanent features on the landscape.
Extensive drainage of wetlands for agriculture and development has adversely affected pheasants as well as waterfowl. Wetlands are heavily used by pheasants as roosting, escape and loafing cover from late fall through spring. These areas provide pheasants with protection from harsh winter weather and predators, which in part explains why pheasant populations are at their highest where an abundance of wetlands exists. Peripheral areas of nesting cover that commonly surround wetlands are often chosen as nes ting sites by pheasants and ducks alike.