Loss of native grasslands to tillage has increased the importance of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grasslands to maintain ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) populations. Despite the importance of CRP to pheasants, little is known about the effects of CRP field age and cover type on pheasant abundance and productivity in the northern Great Plains. Therefore, we assessed effects of these characteristics on pheasant use of CRP fields. We stratified CRP grasslands (n=42) by CRP stand age (old [10-13 yrs] vs. new [1-3 yrs] grasslands) and cover type (CP1 [cool-season grasslands] vs. CP2 [warm-season grasslands]) in eastern South Dakota and used crowing counts and roadside brood counts to index ring-necked pheasant abundance and productivity. Field-age and cover-type effects on pheasant abundance and productivity were largely the result of differences in vegetation structure among fields. More crowing pheasants were recorded in old cool-season CRP fields than any other age or cover type, and more broods were recorded in cool- than warm-season CRP fields. Extending existing CRP contracts another 5-10 years would provide the time necessary for new fields to acquire the vegetative structure used most by pheasants without a gap in habitat availability. Cool-season grass-legume mixtures (CP1) that support higher pheasant productivity should be given equal or higher ratings than warm-season (CP2) grass stands. We also recommend that United States Department of Agriculture administrators and field staff provide broader and more flexible guidelines on what seed mixtures can be used in CRP grassland plantings in the northern Great Plains. This would allow landowners and natural resource professionals who manage pheasant habitat to plant a mosaic of cool- and warm-season CRP grassland habitats.
Additional publication details
Effects of CRP field age and cover type on ring-necked pheasants in eastern South Dakota