While most people enjoy turkey on Thanksgiving Day, some might be eating pheasants shot on public land. As 90.3's Janet Babin reports, if it weren't for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, many hunters would come up empty handed.
Janet Babin- Throughout November and December, some 15,000 pheasants raised from birth in pens will find themselves roaming free in Ohio woods and grasslands for the first time.
They'll likely be greeted by eager hunters. Hunting licenses pay for the state's Pheasant release program. The State Department of Natural Resources spends between $90,000-$150,000 a year feeding, raising and releasing the birds. By next Spring, only about 5% of the birds will still be around.
Dave Risley with the DNR's Wildlife Management and Resources department says the release program began in the 40's to bring hunters onto public land and away from private land, but has changed since then as pheasant numbers have dramatically declined.
Dave Risley- We've lost almost all of our pheasant habitat, and so the only place a hunter is going to find a pheasant any more is going to be on one of our wildlife areas.
JB- Risley says the state doesn't do population surveys of the birds. Instead, each spring and summer rural mail carriers volunteer to count the birds they see along their routes. Last summer, the carriers spotted .83 pheasants for every 1,000 miles driven. The summer before, .45 were spotted.
Biologist Keith Brus says his employer is trying to increase wild bird populations through habitat. Pheasants Forever is a non profit organization funded largely by hunters, with 30 chapters in Ohio. Brus says penned birds don't have good survival rates in the wild:
Keith Brus- The money could probably be better spent on developing habitat and then some day having a wild bird population in those areas.
JB- Brus says the release does provide hunting opportunities. He says Pheasants Forever doesn't spend member money for raise and release programs, but has received grants from the Ohio DNR to increase pheasant habitat. The season runs through the end of the year. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.