By Steve Adair, Ph.D.
Habitat. It is the common denominator that provides food, water, shelter, and nesting sites for all species. There has to be enough high-quality habitat for wildlife populations to survive and grow. Ducks Unlimited leads in its habitat conservation work to provide healthy waterfowl populations for hunting, observation, and at times, just pure enjoyment. Although waterfowl habitat is DU's focus, none of its projects have signs that read “Ducks only, all other species keep out.” In fact, many of our projects do as much for other game species as they do for ducks. Why? Because high-quality, abundant habitat is the underlying factor that all species need to thrive.
I have lost count of how many times I've asked people whether they were members of Ducks Unlimited and they responded, “No, I don't hunt ducks, I hunt turkeys,” or “I used to be, but now I mainly hunt pheasants.” Is that a valid excuse? Let's examine some of the data that is being collected on conservation efforts around the country.
When most people think of ring-necked pheasants, they think of walking wooded shelterbelts, cornfields, or buffer strips in the Great Plains, with hundreds of pheasants busting from the cover. This has to be the habitat sustaining these birds, right? While these areas are good places to hunt pheasants, they may not be the best places to grow pheasants. Recent population modeling conducted for Iowa suggests that pheasant populations actually respond much more strongly to large blocks of grassland as opposed to buffer strips. When simulated townships contained 25 percent of the landscape in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) buffer strips, pheasant populations were only 5 percent greater than when there was no CRP at all.