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The cold weather this winter didn’t do anybody much good, but it was especially hard on pheasants, reports the Des Moines Register. The bird was already in trouble. It’s population was dwindling across the Upper Plains. Now conservationists are waiting to see if heavy spring rains further trim the number of game birds.

It’s been a really, really sad story,” hunter and kennel operator Steve Ries told the Register’s Perry Beeman. Iowa hunters used to kill a million pheasants a year, but that fell to approximately 300,000 in less than a decade, he said. “There’s a lot of concern out there.” And not just in Iowa. More farmers across the Plains are turning acres in the Conservation Reserve Program to corn production, reducing further the grassland that is best suited for pheasants. (The Register has a nifty chart showing the massive decreases in CRP land.) Meanwhile, Minnesota reports a nearly 11% decrease in the number of pheasants killed from ’05 to ’08; North Dakota is down by almost 5%; and South Dakota is off by 1.5%.

Pheasants came from China and are suited to harsh winters, Beeman reports. Hens lay an average of 11 eggs and will produce more than one next if the first group fails. Still, the number of pheasants is decreasing.

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