Hunters lose with budget squeeze

By Eric Nyberg

The Controlled Pheasant Hunting Program is on Gov. Blagojevich’s chopping block, and Illinois pheasant hunters face unpleasant realities if the program loses its funding.

According to Illinois Pheasants Forever, a Web site promoting habitat availability for the birds, the governor’s office recently sent a directive to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that would end the program.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” said Dave Voegtlin, an entomologist working for the University’s Natural History Survey.

The Controlled Pheasant Hunting Program, which started in 1946, allows licensed hunters to hunt within the boundaries of public state parks. The program does not affect people who hunt on their own private land.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Paris Ervin said the department recognizes the popularity of the hunting program, but may not be able to continue it “due to the financial situation in the state and the nation, with projected revenues falling nearly $750 million below expectations.”

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    “We are faced with making difficult decisions,” Ervin said. “The discontinuation of the pheasant program is a proposal, and we are willing to work with the general assembly to find a way to keep the program.”

    There are 16 state parks and other natural areas in the east-central region of Illinois, in which Champaign County is located, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Funding to raise pheasants and release them into these areas is what stands to be cut.

    “Really, the (pheasant) population has gone down so much that the only place you can be guaranteed to find one is in these parks,” Voegtlin said, adding that he hunts near Champaign at Moraine View State Recreation Area, just north of Bloomington, Ill.

    Many parks have hatcheries, allowing them to release enough birds into the area for most of the hunters to shoot each day, Voegtlin said. But he added that it is costly to raise the birds, maintain the parks and check hunters in every day.

    “Apparently, the costs (for maintaining the reserves) far exceed the recovery,” Voegtlin said. “Hunters pay $15 a day to shoot two birds.”

    According to the Pheasants Forever Web site, 29,200 hunter trips generated $438,000 last year.

    The revenue was not enough, however, to convince the state to continue subsidizing the program.

    Voegtlin said that if the park reserves are eliminated, hunters will have to content themselves with hunting fewer pheasants in the wild, outside of the regulated area where pheasants are plentiful and quicker to be seen.

    Rob Bernas, a graduate student and former president of the Illini Trap and Skeet Club, said he has hunted pheasant since he was 12 and hunts with his family every fall.

    “I would never pay money for a canned shoot,” Bernas said, referring to the method of hunting used on some game preserves, in which the birds are disoriented, making them easier to shoot. “Pheasants are really fast birds, which makes them hard to get and fun to hunt.”

    Bernas said if the hunting program is eliminated due to the budget cuts, a lot of hunters will either stop hunting all together, or they might turn to poaching.

    But, Bernas said, hunters do have an alternative – small groups can still receive permission to hunt on plots of land owned by farmers.