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Published: Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 12:42 a.m. CDT

Pheasant cover

BOONE — “They Gotta’ Have Cover” is a new and catchy way to call attention to what farmers can do to bring back pheasants and other grassland birds.

Debuting at the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Aug. 26-28, the video features three farmers rapping about the cover types they’ve planted, then nurtured to shelter and feed pheasant throughout the year.

Once you hear the lyrics, you won’t be able to forget them.

“They gotta’ have cover! Yes they do, yes they do!” or

“Gotta’ have grass for the pheasants to nest, 10 to 12 inches is what the hens like best.”

It’s not as simple as planting a field of brome or switch grass, and watching the birds fly. The DNR’s research shows that managed farms with three essential types of habitat produce more birds than unmanaged farms — three times as many.

What’s good for pheasant is good for most grassland birds, from meadowlarks to quail; Henslowe sparrows to bobolinks.

Since the 1960s, Iowa has lost half the ideal land for grassland birds – land in hay and small grains like oats – dropping from more than 7 million to 3.4 million acres. As a result, grassland birds are in trouble.

“Gotta’ have Cover” gives farmers a quick tutorial on how to bring the birds back. The video is on the Iowa DNR’s pheasant page at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasants.

Stop by the DNR booth in Conservation Central, Lot 817, at the Farm Progress Show and prepare to be entertained.

While you’re there, check out “Farmer Feud,” hot topic speakers, nine cover crop plots, the Soil Health trailer and booths at all 12 conservation partners.

Find information about establishing pheasant and grassland bird habitat at www.iowadnr.gov/Environment/LandStewardship/WildlifeLandownerAssistance.aspx.

Habitat and Hunter Access Program

Landowners and hunters will benefit from a recent announcement that Iowa will receive $3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand the Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP). The announcement came from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in August as part of a $20 million allocation to 10 states.

The DNR’s Iowa Habitat and Access Program provides landowners with financial assistance to improve habitat. In return, participating landowners agree to open those lands for public hunting.

According to Kelly Smith, private lands program coordinator, the DNR will use the grant to enhance 22,000 acres with improvements such as grass seeding, tree and shrub plantings, food plots, timber stand improvements and wetland restorations.

“We’ve seen growing demand by hunters for more public access, and by landowners for more habitat improvement opportunities,” said Smith. “This grant will more than triple the number of acres enrolled in the program.”

The DNR launched the Iowa Habitat and Access Program in 2011. Since then, more than 8,000 acres at 50 locations have received habitat improvements and provided new hunting opportunities.

“We have surveyed participating landowners and they have shown high satisfaction with the program,” said Smith. “Landowners say they’ve had very few concerns with hunters on their land, and would recommend other landowners participate.”

Additionally, hunters seem pleased to have more options for places to hunt. Lands enrolled in IHAP are open for public hunting from Sept. 1 – May 31 and follow the same regulations as public wildlife areas.

“We ask hunters to fill out cards to let us know about their hunting experience on an IHAP parcel,” said Smith. “Of 236 people who completed a card in 2013, 98 percent said they would come back.”

The grant dollars came from the USDA’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP). The program is administered by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to expand or improve habitat in existing public access programs or provide incentives to improve habitat on land already enrolled in their public access programs.

If landowners are interested in participating, they should contact their local DNR private lands biologist. For more information about IHAP and to view maps of locations, visitwww.iowadnr.gov/ihap.

Teal information

Waterfowl hunters have a new season this year. Whether it continues will depend on how well they can identify fast moving teal, over a shallow wetland.

To outline the new ‘early teal’ season, the DNR has scheduled six free information sessions around the state beginning August 27 at 7 p.m., at the F.W. Kent Park conservation education center, west of Tiffin On Highway 6; followed by Spencer, August 28, 7 p.m., Spencer High School ICN room, 800 East 3rd Street; Burlington, August 28, 7 p.m., Starr’s Cave Nature Center, 11627 Starr’s Cave Road; Peosta, August 28, 6:30 p.m., Swiss Valley Nature Center, 13606 Swiss Valley Road; and Waverly, September 4, 6:30 p.m., Waverly Public Library, 1500 W Bremer Avenue.

That September 6-21 season across Iowa—provides hunters with earlier dates to pursue the early migrants. 

“Blue-winged teal are an early migrating species and the peak of the migration occurs before our regular season opens,” explains DNR waterfowl technician Al Hancock.  “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is allowing production states—and Iowa is one of them—the opportunity to participate in an early teal season.”

The three year experiment hinges on hunter ability to identify the erratic, fast moving waterfowl. Only teal will be legal during the 16 day September season. During the special season, observation points will be active. Wildlife officials will assess shots taken at non target species. Hancock emphasizes that if too many NON-teal are targeted, the federal agency will eliminate the season.

Nearly 5,000 licensed Iowa waterfowl hunters were surveyed last winter; with 69 percent replying that they would hunt an early teal season.

The information session will include video of September teal, showing how to identify blue-winged and green-winged teal. It will offer suggestions for finding teal hot spots. Also at the session will be tips on decoy spreads, choke patterns and shot loads.

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