DNR pheasant program faces deadline

April 16, 2008 at 02:33 PM

Standing outside a legislative hearing room Wednesday morning in a khaki-colored work shirt and a Pheasants Forever cap, Kelly Howry looked a wee bit uncomfortable.

But even though Howry probably is more at home in the field than in the halls of government, he said it was important to show his support for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ controlled pheasant-hunting program.

DNR plans to discontinue the program to save money. The controlled pheasant-hunting program relies on captive raised birds that are stocked at special hunting areas at 18 sites around the state.

Supporters of the program say there aren’t enough birds in heavily farmed Illinois to satisfy everyone who wants to hunt pheasants. Pheasant hunters also say not everyone has access to private land or can afford to go to a hunting preserve.

Howry is the habitat chairmen of his local Pheasants Forever chapter in DeWitt County. He said his chapter provides volunteers and financial support for a youth hunt held at Clinton Lake.

Youth hunts at controlled pheasant hunting areas will be discontinued if the program is closed.

“I’m a strong believer in getting them out in the field—out in the timber and out by the creek,” said Howry. “Then you can keep them out of trouble.”

Under the proposal, Clinton Lake is one of 14 sites where the controlled pheasant-hunting program would be closed. Another four sites will stay open, because they buy birds from an outside vendor.

Howry attended a joint House and Senate committee meeting to discuss funds that have not been released for a variety of agricultural and natural resources programs even though they were appropriated by the Illinois General Assembly.

Ginger Ostro, director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, said the money has been withheld because tax revenues for fiscal 2008 are falling $750 million short of what was projected.

The pheasant program cuts actually would take place in fiscal 2009, but supporters of the program say DNR faces an early to mid-May deadline to begin raising pheasants for fall.

“We’re going to lose the season by default and inaction,” says Jerry Rodeen, a member of Phesants Forever’s national board of directors.

He said controlled hunting areas provide good first experiences for young hunters since they have a reasonable chance at success.

“They are the only places these young men and women can hunt and be assured of a good shot,” he said.

Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta, said he doesn’t see any real cost savings to the state if the pheasant program is discontinued.

Operating three propagation facilities, including one at Lincoln, costs about $1.3 million. About two-thirds of the expense is staff - 13 positions in all. The $15 fee paid by hunters (on top of their hunting license and habitat stamp) more than covers the other one-third, about $400,000 to $450,000.

The employees are to be reassigned to other duties, so Reitz says closing the program won’t really save any money.

“The numbers I have seen, (the controlled pheasant-hunting program) is a money-maker for DNR,” he said. “I really think doing away with this program makes no sense at all.”

Reitz said the program could generate more revenue by hiking the fee to $25 and then by $5 more every three years.

Rodeen said pheasant hunters likely would be willing to pay more to hunt.

“Sportsmen and women have always been willing to pay their way,” he said. “We should raise the fee (from $15) to $25 and put in a cost-of-living escalator so we don’t have to go through this crisis again.”