NYS DEC 2020-2030 Pheasant Plan
Pheasants have existed in parts of New York since 1892. By the 1920s wild, breeding populations of pheasants were successfully established across the state. The state propagation program began in 1910. A commitment was made to continue the State’s pheasant management programs when sporting license fees were increased for the 2009-10 license year and beyond.
The DEC has followed the Environmental Regulations that affect the Pheasant Plan. The DEC pheasant propagation program was specifically described on page 13 of its 1980 programmatic EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) on game species management, and in section 10 of a supplemental SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) findings prepared in 1994. In 2010, the pheasant plan update concluded that it was a Type II action under SEQR regulations (6 NYCRR 618.2), so no specific environmental assessment was prepared.
Pheasant management has been guided by three previous pheasant plans, the first adopted in 1979, the second in 1999, and the last plan adopted in 2010. A new plan will be adopted in 2020. This plan, like the others, will guide the Pheasant Program for 10 years, (2020 through 2030), provided funding and other resources do not change.
The 2010 Plan included many changes to New York’s Pheasant Program. Fortunately, the DEC developed a very sound plan and most of the changes were wise. Nevertheless, it cannot be assumed that the 2020 plan will be favorable. If the DEC follows the same timeline and system you (might) receive a preliminary “Issues Statement” in Late April of 2019. You will be given instructions and a deadline to meet if you choose to give feedback. If you do, follow the instructions so that your response is deemed substantive. Next, the availability of revised draft plan (might) be announced in late September via press release, the Environmental Notice Bulletin (ENB), and posting on the DEC website, with comments due back around November. Look for these announcements if you want to weigh in. As always: the INSTRUCTIONS may say to keep your comments relevant to something specific, if you want the DEC to consider your comments substantive; then follow their directions. We want to point out and emphasize, that we do not wait for the DEC to solicit public comment when we want something improved. As a matter of fact, we will be sending them this, around the same time you receive it. However – when there is instructions with public comment requests, we follow them.
Many well-reasoned changes that resulted in substantial improvements to the Pheasant Plan were made in the 2010 revision that the DEC Pheasant Plan Revision Team should be commended for. However, there were three changes we did not support:
- Requiring the release of Day-Old Pheasant Chick Program birds by December 1st
- Releasing at least 10% of the adult pheasant production for the Youth Pheasant Hunt weekends.
- Provide 2,000 pheasants annually to “interest groups” to be used in sponsored hunts across New York State for youth, women, novices, veterans, and people with disabilities. (DEC’s Sponsored Pheasant Hunts Program).
*2010 Pheasant Plan Revision Team: Michael Murphy (Chair), Thomas Raffaldi, Karl Parker, Melissa Neely, Andrew MacDuff, Jeffrey Eller, Lance Clark, Scott Smith, Emilio Rende, Robert Rathma.
Although the DEC follows Administrative Procedure Law and opens its Pheasant Plan to public review, as far as we know, they are not very receptive to stakeholder input in the planning phase or before an issue statement is circulated; except through their surveys, such as the Small Game Hunter Survey for example. We feel, that the majority of DEC Staff are, at best; casual hunters, not avid pheasant hunters. Avid pheasant hunters are in a unique position to provide quality information and make sound recommendations. The level of avidity of survey respondents is unknown. The DEC may argue, as they did to the Waterfowl Season Task Force and other waterfowl hunters, that the most avid hunters (hunt many more days than average) are not in the best position to make decisions for the majority of waterfowl hunters who do not hunt as frequently. Although that is partially true, it is not completely true in all contexts. In addition, there are inherent differences between setting waterfowl hunting seasons and managing the state pheasant program. Thus, we think that certain perspectives certainly do carry more validity than those of the average pheasant hunter as well as DEC Staff. We also believe that in situations when the DEC uses a quantitative analysis, such as the SDM Process which now is used in setting waterfowl hunting seasons; that the opinion of “experts” and/or outlier responses should NOT be ignored. With that, we caution that the DEC is not well-equipped to determine who is an “expert pheasant hunter”. The DEC has relied on hunters themselves to give its staff a sense of the hunting culture and hunting practices for many years. Each passing year, that becomes more and more important, because the DEC is increasingly comprised of staff that does not have personal, first-hand experience with hunting. In fact, many do not have one single family member, friend, or personal acquaintance that is a hunter. It is difficult to manage an activity you do not know anything about. This problem is intensified by the equally profound changes in the hunting population. There are fewer avid hunters, especially avid pheasant hunters. The proliferation of hunting dog clubs and events associated with them has created a lot of confusion and misinformation. Most of the hunters closest to the DEC and the Politico, are also officers of organizations, often one person is involved with several organizations. Most people appointed to boards, committees, and Task Forces (CFAB, WFMB, Waterfowl Season TF, Whitetail Deer TF, etc.) are also active, or at least previously active, with at least one organization, often several. It should be common sense, that if you are engaged in numerous civic bodies, you don’t actually have much time to hunt much. The DEC, FWS, Cornell Center for Conservation Social Studies, Responsive Management, Southland Associates, the Archery Trade Association, the National Shooting Sports Association, and members of the New York State legislature; are fully aware of the difference between so-called Hunting Associates and Active Hunters. Hunting Associates are persons who have attrited from the field, but still remain active in the social/political network of hunters. Some Hunting Associates have not hunted for so long they cannot possibly have an up to date perspective. Other Hunting Associates may have participated in some forms of hunting years ago, such as deer hunting, but like many DEC Staff, never hunted pheasant or did once or twice decades ago. The situation has evolved such that people who do not hunt/do not understand hunting – DEC Staff, NY State Legislators, Social Scientists, Hunting Associates, Casual Hunters, and marketers working for the hunting industry; are making decisions about hunting, for the avid hunters. At this point – it is not a surprise if some readers are amused that I suggest there are “expert pheasant hunters” or that pheasant hunting is an expert endeavor. That mentality is a major part of the underlying problem. Besides, it doesn’t matter if it is pheasant, grouse, woodcock, rabbit, waterfowl, or managing overuse on WMAs, the wrong people, using the wrong viewpoints; have been making the decisions.
By the time an “Issues Statement” is circulated to stakeholders, the DEC Pheasant Plan Team has already developed a framework without consulting the persons with the best insight into the Pheasant Program and who hold the perspective of an avid pheasant hunter. The Issues Statement probably will be circulated randomly, (random sampling) not by purposive sampling, which would be better as it would target avid pheasant hunters instead of a random sample of the entire hunting population or those whom the DEC has identified as small game hunters. Since the DEC does not issue a small game license nor a pheasant permit, they or Cornell must rely on old information or fund an extra step, like a pilot study, to identify who the pheasant hunters are. A mandatory Pheasant Permit would solve that. We would trust a five year record of buying a pheasant permit and deem it more dependable than taking the word of a random or semi-random survey respondent that he is an active pheasant hunter. Not to mention, the pheasant permit generates revenue, while a two-part survey, is more costly than a one part survey.
Stakeholders can contact the DEC or politico anytime about the Pheasant Program. We do, we don’t wait for a questionnaire and/or a public comment period. Because they are a state agency, they probably will respond to phone calls, emails, or correspondence. But that does not necessarily mean they will consider such input. We believe there should be a paradigm change in that regard. We do not believe the DEC should work up a policy (even using their best professional judgement) and then only in the finalization stages, accept public opinion on the aspects of their proposal that they select. We understand the logic behind this practice, and acknowledge the merits of it in the finalization stage. HOWEVER – we do not agree that the pheasant hunting constituency should only be consulted AFTER a draft is prepared and only about what the DEC wants. Rather, we think the pheasant hunting constituency should be involved in the development of the draft.
Here are our other recommendations and additional comments for the 2020 through 2030 Pheasant Plan:
- The pheasant hunting constituency should be involved in the development of the draft. The following is a description of how we assume the current system works: At some point early in the Draft formulation; data from previous surveys, such as the Small Game Hunter Survey is used to craft a preliminary issues statement; then a sample of stakeholders are asked their opinion about the issues statement. Next, the Draft Plan is completed. The DEC then accepts public comment on certain parts of the Draft. We think the pheasant hunting constituency should play a greater role in the development of 10 year pheasant plans and should be involved BEFORE a draft is ready for proposal. Our reason is because pheasant hunters have greater hindsight, foresight, and insight into the quality of the Pheasant Program than does the DEC Staff. By not exploiting what the pheasant hunters know, the DEC is compromising the Pheasant Program.
- Fund Pheasants: Implement a Mandatory Pheasant Permit AND a Voluntary Pheasant Stamp.
- Use the funding strategy we propose to maintain a data base of the pheasant hunting constituency. This will allow built-in updating – lapsed pheasant hunters will be identified if they stop buying a pheasant permit. Provides better and more reliable information about who the experienced hunters are – have they bought 30 permits over 30 years or have they bought 2 permits in 30 years? Tells you who is avid and who is sporadic – Most hunters do not hunt for 5 years straight without a lapse. An avid hunter does. Identifies pheasant hunters who quit – the DEC can conduct surveys of quitters to determine how to retain and reactivate pheasant hunters specifically. Knowing the pheasant hunters allows the DEC to survey them without “by-catch” or without multiple questionnaires.
- Use the roster and other information from the pheasant permit database to survey the constituency, to conduct outreach, send updates, and promote the pheasant program and pheasant hunting. In the 2010 plan, the DEC formulated Action 2.5.4. Provide accurate and timely information to help hunters know generally when and where they can hunt pheasants propagated by DEC and program cooperators. We do not know how or if this was carried out. Most people will use the DEC website which publishes pheasant hunting information. But pheasant hunting is becoming an anachronism. Industries do not rely solely on their websites for business. They conduct direct marketing, such as emails and newsletter. An article on pheasant hunting is undermined when it is among articles about deer hunting etc. However, an entire email or newsletter dedicated to one subject – pheasant hunting, perhaps sent to a targeted audience, like people in the pheasant permit database, will work better.
- Late season stocking: We oppose stocking pheasant during firearm deer seasons, but we recognize that this forces us to hunt in miserable early season conditions. We live in NY. We know that snow and flooding can block access, and can make stocking difficult or impossible. Nevertheless we believe the DEC should conduct a late season pheasant stocking (weather permitting) after late Muzzeloader deer season; where and when it is possible. If possible, that stocking should coincide with Holidays and school vacations to enable youths, parents, college students, and a suite of education employees and school bus employees.
- In 2010 the Plan listed Action 2.5.2. Improve habitat on DEC pheasant release sites to hold birds better, increase harvest, and increase hunter satisfaction. And Action 2.5.6. Evaluate current mowing practices on Wildlife Management Areas and other state lands and develop and implement mowing standards to best benefit wild pheasants, pheasants released for hunting, and other grassland wildlife. One of our favored pheasant release sites was not conducive to pheasant hunting through 2017. We contacted the DEC Land Manager and gave him suggestions in 2017. We are unsure if our suggestions influenced his regime; but in 2018 a lot of what we sought as done, and the affect was positive for us and others. Although most hunters still stuck to a pathway, we noted more hunters actually hunting instead of walking on an operations road, which of course increased the success in harvesting pheasant. We are pretty sure others found the management regime more enjoyable. We understand mowing and other management activities require rotation, and the same pattern cannot be repeated every year. However, if aware and mindful of how pheasants are hunted, even with rotations, hunting conditions can be improved. If the DEC is interested in how the landscape relates to the act of pheasant hunting, in order to increase hunter satisfaction, let us know. We are not in any way suggesting that vegetation be manipulated to make pheasants vulnerable or concentrate them. Rather, hunters and hunting dogs do not like to exit by backtracking along the route they entered. Since pheasant hunters yield to deer hunters who want to hunt during the rut; and stocking ends early; some of the vegetation is not practical to hunt in, with heat and insects adding to the difficulty. Some dense and tall cover is desirable, but not 15 acres right off a parking area.
- Regarding number 6, the DEC should also consider if hunters are merely not finding pheasant rather than the birds are dispersing too far due to inadequate cover. As far as the cover “holding the birds” we have not found this to be a problem ourselves, but have heard complaints about this from hunters in other regions. However, we are aware of telemetry studies that show pen-raised pheasant are prone to move long distances, regardless of cover. Although many stocked pheasant are lost to a variety of causes, most of the hunters do not work the cover thoroughly and slowly, make too much noise, and let their dogs range too far. The reason other hunters do not complain should be considered too. We are also aware of other telemetry studies that have shown so-called “champion” bird dogs fail to locate a surprising number of bobwhite. Pheasant; are much harder for a dog to find than quail. We have not hunted on every pheasant release site in the state. However, of the ones we ourselves have hunted, the cover is adequate. That may not be true for all pheasant release sites, but in our region it is.
See the old NYS DEC 2010-2020 Pheasant Plan Here