The number of pheasants in Iowa could grow if a bill that won unanimous approval in the Iowa House becomes law. The state’s game bird population has declined for a number of reasons, including recent weather conditions. The bill would let landowners get baby pheasants from a hatchery, raise the pheasants in a pen until they’re mature, then release them into nearby fields.

Representative John Beard of Decorah, a pheasant hunter himself, says this is not a long term solution. “Pen-raised birds are not as vigorous as wild birds. They do not survive well and they do not reproduce well,” Beard says. “But recognizing the attachment that we have to this bird in this state I think it’s only fair that we allow landowners to try and bring birds back on their properties.”

Beard served on the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee that studied the problem. Representative Richard Arnold of Russell says it’s hard to find ring-necked pheasants in southern Iowa. “The major thing is habitat. We have a lot of habitat in southern iowa, but we don’t have the breeding stock anymore to bring them back,” Arnold says.

“This bill is a baby step in that direction to get it started again.” According to Arnold, abnormally wet and cool springs have made it difficult for pheasants to nest. Another factor is a declining amount of land in rural Iowa is enrolled in the “Conservation Reserve Program.” The government program encourages farmers to plant native grasses, trees and other vegetation on highly-erodible cropland — and that vegetation is an ideal habitat for pheasants.

The government contracts for that program are running out, though, and many farmers are converting that land to crop use again.