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Saturday, June 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Trading Habitat For Easy Shooting Makes Little Sense

By Rich Landers The Spokesman-Revi

After researching the history of a surprising new tax on Washington pheasant hunters, I’m reminded of a specific hunt in 1982.

Sage, my Brittany spaniel, was in his first pheasant season. Like any hunter, I desperately wanted to reward any staunch pointing performances with a bird for the eager pup to retrieve.

Pheasant numbers were good that year. The drought hadn’t set in, and the cover was thick on the slopes above the Snake River.

In a walk down one long ridge, Sage locked on point 19 times. Yes, I counted. Each point involved a single pheasant. The outing was a dream come true for a hunter training a dog, except for one thing: Every pheasant that flew was a hen.

Washington hunters are not allowed to shoot hen pheasants.

After the first dozen fruitless finds, I began shooting my shotgun in the air as the hens flushed. I thought it would help Sage understand we were still hunting, even though no birds were dropping to the ground.

My partner, Chris Kopczynski, heard all the shooting from a distance. When we regrouped, he howled at my empty game pouch.

“At least the pup learned one thing today,” he laughed. “His owner is the worst shot in Washington.”

I’ve had my share of frustrating pheasant hunting experiences. But I’ve never twisted them into a campaign to release pen-raised roosters to the field.

I was shocked last month to learn that other hunters have.

At the end of this year’s legislative session, Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard, muscled passage of a bill that requires hunters to buy a $10 Pheasant Enhancement Stamp for hunting the birds in Eastern Washington. The stamp, not available until September, will be required in addition to the $15 hunting license and $10 upland bird permit.

The Fish and Wildlife Department did not propose the bill, but supported it because much of the money originally was intended for habitat restoration.

In final negotiations, however, the legislators, with Oke’s blessing, earmarked a whopping 80 percent of the stamp money for raising and releasing pen-raised roosters.

Most sportsmen aren’t aware of the new fee because there was no clamor for it. Most regional wildlife officials didn’t know the details until recently.

“This is my thing,” said Oke, a die-in-the-wool pheasant hunter who assumes responsibility for the new program. “I don’t want a young pheasant hunter to go out and be disappointed” he said, noting that “Kids nowadays need instant gratification.”

That would sound good and wholesome if it weren’t such a bag of baloney.

Kids nowadays need the hard truth about natural resources. Hatcheries aren’t the answer to salmon woes, and pen-raised pheasants won’t compensate for wiping out habitat.

For 15 years, the state has wisely emphasized providing better habitat for natural reproduction.

Pheasant release programs have continued in Western Washington, where wild pheasants do not thrive in the wetter, grain-poor countryside. Hunters who chose to hunt the confined release areas pay an extra $35 for the luxury of put-and-take birds. Fair enough.

But the state closed its last Eastern Washington bird farm in 1981 because the pheasant release program here had been a colossal failure.

State figures show the cost of raising a single pheasant is $8-$10. The return rate to hunters in heavily hunted Western Washington reserves is 50-70 percent of the birds released.

The last surveys on ringneck releases in Eastern Washington showed return rates closer to 30 percent.

That means roughly 70 percent of roosters released on the East Side served to fatten hawks and coyotes. The survival rate beyond the hunting season is virtually nil, surveys found.

For every $100 poured into raising pheasants, hunters might bag three or four roosters.

The same money plowed into good habitat could help entire broods of pheasants, and other wildlife, survive year after year after year.

Releasing birds is an agricultural concept that is popular with farmers. Raising pheasants for release has always seemed easier and more reasonable than leaving brush along the creeks and draws and in the eyebrows of steep hills.

Reviving the release program is a mistake. It’s scientifically unsound. It doesn’t even mesh with the Republican-dominated Legislature’s no-new-taxes policy.

The drought is over and pheasant numbers are on the rebound. Growing conditions are ideal. This is the time to expand habitat to carry pheasants through the next drought, not to squander money so a few hunters can feather their own nest.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rich Landers The Spokesman-Review

You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rich Landers The Spokesman-Review

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