(Above) A pheasant takes flight at the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville. (Below) Hunters walk one of the controlled pheasant hunting units at Jim Edgar.
Pheasants might fly this fall after all
Illinois’ pheasant-hunting program—thought by most to be grounded by budget shortfalls—still could take flight this fall.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources runs three wildlife propagation facilities, including one at Lincoln, that produce pheasants to be stocked at public hunting areas around the state.
The state runs the stocking program at 18 sites. Fourteen of those rely on birds produced at the three facilities, and their programs – including youth hunts – were scheduled to close in an effort to save money.
The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget has repeatedly said the state could not afford to subsidize programs like the controlled pheasant hunting program.
Originally, supporters of the program feared a compromise would not be reached before it was too late to start hatching and raising birds. Legislation to restore hunting programs using captive-raised pheasants remains stalled in committee.
But now, IDNR says 64,000 birds are in the pipeline at the three hatcheries awaiting final word as to whether or not the hunting program will continue.
“We still don’t know,” said DNR spokesman Chris McCloud. “We are prepared to have (the controlled pheasant hunting program) if we can have it. We are hopeful that something can be worked out.”
Closing the program would not save the state much money, supporters said. Hunter fees cover the cost of raising birds. The programs 12 full- and part-time employees were not going to be eliminated, just moved to other jobs at DNR.
Operating the three facilities costs about $1.3 million. About two-thirds of that expense is staff. The $15 fee paid by hunters (on top of their license and habitat stamp) covers the other one-third, about $400,000 to $450,000.
In central Illinois, controlled pheasant hunting programs operate at the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area in Cass County, Sangchris Lake State Park in Sangamon and Christian Counties, Sand Ridge State Forest in Mason County and Edward Madigan State Park in Logan County.
Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mt. Vernon, said pressure from sportsmen and legislators helped keep the program in the public eye.
“I think the legislators put enough pressure on the administration to let them know we didn’t want it stopped,” he said.
Jones said pheasant hunters have to wait and see what Gov. Rod Blagojevich does to address what he calls a $1.5 billion shortfall in the budget passed by the General Assembly.
Aaron Kuehl, conservation director for Illinois Pheasants Forever, said IDNR is taking a “proceed with caution” stance.
“We’ve got the feed. We’ve got the eggs. We’ve got the chicks. So it seems like we’ll do it this year, and see what happens,” he said.
Kuehl said captive-raised birds are a necessity in Illinois, where the vast majority of land is in private hands.
“There are folks that would not otherwise have the opportunity to chase pheasants or other upland game without this program,” he said.
McCloud emphasized no decision has been made yet.
“DNR knows (the program) is important, and we still are hopeful at this point,” he said. “Facilities are still operating, and employees are still there.
“Everybody is doing what they would normally do,” said McCloud. “We are preparing in the event that there will be a program. There is no guarantee we are going to have the program, but there is no guarantee that we are not.”