Pheasanomics: Habitat enhancement project, Stage 1

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Outdoor Forum will be actively documenting the progress of a habitat enhancement project that is planned for land near Forestburg, S.D. The land is owned by Dr. Don Schellpfeffer (far right), pictured here talking to a group of pheasant hunters this past fall. Photo by Andrew Johnson

By Andrew Johnson

I am pleased to announce that the Outdoor Forum will be actively participating in a habitat project on a chunk of land near Forestburg in Sanborn County, right in the heart of South Dakota’s pheasant country. The land is owned by Dr. Don Schellpfeffer, and Dennis Foster of Dakota Pheasant Guide will also be participating in the project.

The current plan is to document the project through articles, photos and videos to give hunters as well as landowners a better understanding and an inside look at the process of working with Pheasants Forever and government programs to establish or enhance wildlife habitat on private property.

Personally, this is a homecoming of sorts for me, as I cut my teeth pheasant hunting on chunks of land that sit immediately adjacent to Schellpfeffer’s property. Growing up in Dell Rapids, S.D., nothing excited me more than when my father would tell me we were heading west to Forestburg, which is where my mother was born and raised, to hunt pheasants. So, this past summer when Foster invited me to join him and Schellpfeffer as they looked over the land, my eyes lit up when we turned down some very familiar gravel roads.

Later in the fall, I had the pleasure of joining Foster on a hunt he hosted on Schellpfeffer’s property for Rio Ammunition, where we were able to walk the tree belts, cattail sloughs, food plots and grassy waterways that are already found on the property, which covers several hundred acres. The land’s potential didn’t disappoint, as our group ended up with a six-man limit by late afternoon.

Despite the number of birds we saw that day during our hunt, Schellpfeffer pointed toward several areas of his property where he believed additional habitat, food plots, water resources and more could further benefit the local pheasant population and provide even more opportunity in future hunting seasons.

To get the ball rolling, I called the local Pheasants Forever farm bill biologist, Josh Erwin, to find out what the first steps should be for a project of this scope and size. As we talked on the phone, I guided Erwin via Google Earth imagery to the land where the project would take place. After seeing the property covered a sizable amount of land, he had a few suggestions.

“First, I’d like to get the legal descriptions of the land,” Erwin said. “From there, I’ll be able to get an accurate aerial look at the ground before driving up and walking on it. The aerial view is a nice background to have in order to gain perspective before stepping foot on the property.”

After Erwin has exact property boundaries in hand and after he’s looked at everything via satellite imagery, he plans to head out and walk around the property to gain firsthand knowledge of existing habitat, soil types and more.

Erwin also wanted to know specific details regarding what types of wildlife the project was geared toward. And while pheasants are the primary target species, the project will also seek to encourage and support a larger population of whitetail deer.

When dealing with a property of this size where there was a fair amount of existing pheasant habitat, Erwin also asked if there were any specific areas on which the project wanted to focus.

“Basically, it’s nice to know how far the landowner wants to take it and how complex he wants to make it,” Erwin said. “From there the next step is to meet the landowner and feel out what his limitations are. Then we can throw out some ideas and see what sticks.”

To that end, because the property already has existing food and water sources, grassland habitat, and thermal cover, one course of action the project may consider is enhancing the existing mix of habitat through one of Pheasants Forever’s pollinator programs. Whether it’s pollinator habitat for the back yard or the back 40, Pheasants Forever has determined that what is good for the bees is good for the birds. The two go hand in hand, as young pheasants rely on insects during the spring for food, and insects love the diverse forbs found within PF’s pollinator mixes.

However, at this point specific locations and habitat decisions have yet to be made. Going forward, Outdoor Forum plans to document the entire process, so look for updates online at theoutdoorforum.net or on Facebook at facebook.com/ODFmag, as well as in future “Pheasanomics” columns in upcoming issue where you can see the project unfold. So stay tuned, as this promises to be an interesting and educational venture.

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