LANSING — A controversial proposal crawling through the Legislature would require pheasant hunters to buy a special $25-a-year stamp, with proceeds earmarked for stocking the birds and habitat protection on state land.
The Michigan Pheasant Hunting Initiative also would promote efforts to recruit and retain hunters, according to Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which supports the proposal.
The Legislature appropriated $260,000 in 2018 as an interim measure while looking for a long-term funding mechanism, MUCC public information officer Nick Green said.
Rep. Gary Howell, R-North Branch, proposed a bill to require an additional $25 stamp for pheasant hunting on top of a small game license. Co-sponsors include Reps. Sue Allor, R-Wolverine; Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian; Daire Rendon, R-Lake City; and Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette.
According to a House Fiscal Agency analysis, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would use the fees to “acquire, restore or enhance” lands managed for pheasant hunting. Seventy-five percent would be used to pay for pheasant release efforts on state game area sites and 25% would go to habitat restoration for pheasants.
Green said there’s confusion over the purpose of the additional permit and initiative. He specified that it’s not an effort to increase the population of wild pheasants.
The initiative would get more Michiganians involved in hunting, as most hunters begin with small game, he said.
“This is to get people into the field and keep them in the field,” Green said. “That’s how we fund and sustain hunters in Michigan.”
Green said hunters are concerned that planting birds bred in captivity would interfere with wild pheasant hunting. Bill Vander Zouwen, Pheasants Forever regional representative, said that the organization is concerned that weekly stocking stress pheasant habitats.
Al Stewart, a gamebird and upland specialist for the DNR, says that shouldn’t be a concern, as released birds don’t live as long in the wild.
He says efforts to support wild pheasants should be focused on habitat restoration.
“We have the recipe book, we know what it requires to maintain a stable population,” Stewart said. “You have to have a good habitat first. And if you’re releasing birds, you still need to provide a good habitat.”
States like Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois release pheasants as an effective way to maintain interest in pheasant hunting, Stewart said.
Green says that the bill has to pass soon if the initiative is to continue for 2021
“We want to get out in front of this and clear the air so that those who are wild pheasant hunters understand that (the initiative) isn’t trying to interfere,” Green said. “All hunters and pheasant hunters need to be walking together on this issue.”
The bill, introduced last March, is in the House Judiciary Committee.