Pheasant compromise ahead?
Watching pen-raised pheasants lumber into the air is not my favorite form of upland game hunting. Give me wild roosters any day over their fat, dumb domesticated cousins.
But this is Illinois. Wild pheasants are too rare to hunt regularly.
So the dog and I dabble in put-and-take hunts. So do nearly 30,000 others, some who have fond memories of chasing wild roosters when the uplands of Illinois still had grass, hay fields and hedgerows.
For many, those pen-raised birds are the only option, since a lack of cover nowadays makes for a lack of wild birds. Now if Gov. Blagojevich has his way, even pen-raised roosters will be tough to find this fall.
Earlier this month the governor’s office of management and budget told the Department of Natural Resources to stop raising pheasants for release at state sites. Areas impacted would include Johnson-Sauk Trail, Sand Ridge State Forest and Jim Edgar-Panther Creek SFWA, among others.
The budget office touted the measure as a way to save $1.3 million and sold the concept to a few Chicago-area folks. Columnist Kristin McQueary of the Southtown Star even wrote about the “pain” that expense might cause some Illinoisans.
“If I was a teacher dipping into my own pocket for classroom supplies, I might be offended,” McQueary wrote.
But as is so often true of the current regime — for whom facts are an inconvenience best ignored — the savings total is completely deceptive.
For one thing, hunters must purchase a $15 permit each time they hunt pen-raised birds and last year paid $438,000.
Then too, payroll costs account for $928,000 of the previously mentioned $1.3 million. But there are no plans to eliminate staff positions even if pheasant-raising is halted according to Rep. Dan Reitz (D-Sparta).
Obviously the touted savings just aren’t there. That might make a cynic wonder whether this is merely an anti-hunting measure. But let’s table that for another column when there’s no NCAA tournament eating up the sports section.
More to the point, raising permit fees for the first time since 1991 could make controlled pheasant hunting a virtual money-maker for DNR.
“The amount we charge is underpriced,” said Reitz, noting the last permit increase in 1991 was from $12 to $15. “Most of the people I’ve talked to say going from $15 to $25 or $30 is not unreasonable.
“If we do that I think this is one program we can actually make a profit on for the state.”
Given that, Reitz expects to call a meeting between the DNR, legislators and the bureau of the budget in early April when the General Assembly reconvenes.
“I think this was an ill-advised decision and would hope we can get the members of the General Assembly to come up with a proposal to maintain this program,” said Reitz, co-chair of the Illinois Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.
Personally I think increasing the permit cost to $25 is reasonable, given that hunters pay more than that to chase pen-raised birds at private clubs.
The downside is that any cost increase will limit hunter participation, particularly if gas prices remain inflated. In this case, though, that’s likely a concession we have to make.
In the mean time, DNR staffers are still raising roosters. Word out of Springfield is that there’s money to feed pheasants until May.
Ideally by then a compromise can be struck. To up the odds, huntes are urged to mention the issue to their legislators.
Tom Maranville of Peoria spoke on behalf of the pheasant hunting program at a town meeting Monday in East Peoria with Reps. Mike Smith (D-Canton), Keith Sommer (R-Morton) and Sen. David Koehler (D-Pekin).
“Rep. Smith said they are well aware of the governor’s continuing cuts to the IDNR. I asked them to reverse that trend and not to support the proposal to do away with the controlled pheasant hunting sites,” Maranville wrote. “We had several supporters in the audience. Our legislators got the message.”
Let’s hope Gov. Blagoejvich’s office gets the same message.
HOUSTON IN TOWN: Jimmy Houston, one of the most familiar faces in bass fishing, will make an appearance at Presley’s Outdoors in Bartonville this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
As part of the store’s annual spring open house, Houston will meet and greet customers and will give a seminar at about 2 p.m. Jim Crowley of Bloomington will also put on a fishing seminar at 11 a.m. and Presley’s will offer $1 bratwursts.