At a news conference outlining a plan to restore Minnesota’s pheasant population, the Star Tribune reports, Governor Dayton said “the loss of pheasants and pheasant habitat are indicators of broader problems across southern Minnesota, including declines in monarch butterflies, pollinators such as honeybees and polluted waters from agricultural runoff.” The Governor gets it.
The same can’t be said of DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr who said “(w)e know how to make pheasants” as he advocated for “hundreds of millions of dollars” for more habitat.
Science, in a recently published study, tells a different story: pesticide use is a better predictor of U.S. grassland bird declines than the agriculture intensification including the proportion of land under crop or the proportion of farmland treated with herbicides.
The American Bird Conservancy’s report “The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds” (March 2013) zeros in on neonicotinoids, a newer group of systemic insecticides that is used widely and known to be very toxic to pollinators and aquatic creatures. The Conservancy states that the “acute toxicity of neonicotinoids to birds is lower than the acute toxicity of many of the insecticides they have replaced.” Further “chronic/reproductive toxicity of neonicotinoids to birds is high…Because the neonicotinoids are systemic and persistent in soils, and because several are used as seed treatment chemicals, they are available to birds in a chronic fashion, making their potential to affect reproduction an even greater concern.”
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology tells us that pheasants take most of their food from the ground by scratching or digging with their bills and they can get seeds from as deep as three inches below ground. It is clear that, as the Conservancy states, seed treatments will result in a high exposure to birds. Pheasants also eat insects; the insects are also under great stress from neonicotinoids.
The report from the Conservancy is not new (March 2013) but DNR seems oblivious to its content. In a September 8, 2015 Release DNR says that habitat loss continues to be the main factor in the long term decline of the pheasant population; “(w)eather and habitat are the two main factors that drive Minnesota’s pheasant trends.” The Release says that the 2015 pheasant index is 39 percent below the 10-year average. In the last 10 years neonicotinoids have become the most widely used insecticides in the world. That, of course, is not proof that it is the reason for the pheasant decline but neither is it a fact to be ignored.
DNR has about 1.4 million acres in wildlife management. Of that, about 30,000 acres are farmed annually including 10,500 acres that are food plots mainly for deer. DNR and its farming partners continue to use seed treated with neonics. It can be said that DNR puts birds, including pheasants, in double jeopardy: declining insects but plenty of treated seeds especially in the spring when there would be few other seeds.