A relatively new conservation program in Kansas is offering landowners money and free seed to plant grass cover on the corners of irrigated circles, providing some prime new habitat for pheasants, quail and other upland game.

Jared Wiklund, public relations manager of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, based out of St. Paul, Minn., says Corners for Wildlife is a fairly new addition to the state, though the organization has found some success through similar programs in other states, namely Nebraska and Colorado. The program began taking statewide applications in December 2018, according to an article from the Pratt Tribune, and is just now starting to kick off in earnest.

“The funding for the program is just starting to come through and we’re doing our best to get the word out,” Wiklund told The Topeka Capital-Journal.

PFQF recently announced Hayden Outdoors as a contributor to the Corners for Wildlife program in Kansas, as well as the Corners for Conservation program in Colorado. The organization says that each Hayden Outdoors closed real estate transaction over the next two years will generate $100 for support of high-quality habitat on center pivot irrigation corners in the two states.

“Pheasants Forever greatly appreciates Hayden Outdoors’ support of this important habitat program and the benefits their gifts will create for upland birds and rural economies,” said Jordan Martincich, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s director of development, in a release. “This is just another example of their commitment to making the landscape a better place for farmers, ranchers and hunters. The future of upland habitat and outdoor recreation will be brighter thanks to Hayden Outdoors.”

The Northwest Kansas Conservation Foundation in 2018 also committed $100,000 to the program, with the first payment made in May 2018 and four consecutive payments of $20,000 to be made over the following four years. The NWKCF is a conservation and habitat improvement organization created by the board of directors of the annual Kansas Governor's Ringneck Classic, which is scheduled for Nov. 15-17 in Colby, with a classic sponsor reception from 6 to 8 p.m. the night before, Nov. 14. For more information on that event, go to https://www.kansasringneckclassic.com/.

So how does the program work? Well, the program offers Kansas landowners a stipend and free seed to enroll pivot corners that are situated in high-quality upland habitat in the program, similar to what the Conservation Reserve Program does with native grasses. It is then up to landowners to determine whether they want to allow walk-in hunting, which can bring in even more money, on their property.

“The genesis of Corners for Wildlife in Kansas builds on similar programs in the neighboring states of Nebraska and Colorado to provide diverse habitat options to participating landowners,” Wiklund said. “Often underutilized in most states, pivot corners play a major role in habitat connectivity and are able to offer critical nesting/brood rearing cover for upland birds (and a myriad of benefits to all other wildlife) when designed correctly.”

Enrollment is on a first-come, first-served basis, so there is no deadline to sign up. Program enrollment requests are accepted statewide, though they will be subject to funding availability and may change on a year-to-year basis. Forms will be accepted even when annual funding is exhausted, as landowners would then be put on a waiting list for the next year. The crops are typically planted during the spring but may also be planted during winter.

Wiklund said enrollment of these acres in the state’s Walk-in Hunting Access program isn’t mandatory for landowners to receive funding from Corners for Wildlife, but he said they anticipated plenty of landowners would be taking advantage of both programs as a way to bring in extra revenue.

“It’s a win-win all the way around for wildlife, landowners, hunters and the state’s rural economy,” Wiklund said.

He added that Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever remain dedicated to supporting private landowners in their efforts to diversify rural landscapes.

“The land management decisions made by private landowners is what drives our country’s incredible wildlife success stories, in conjunction with public land management and access,” Wiklund said. “The Corners for Wildlife program in Kansas has the opportunity to support both at a high level.”

For information on the program, contact Jacob Christiansen, private land conservationist for Pheasants Forever, at 620-549-3480 or Brittany Smith, coordinating wildlife biologist and wetland specialist at 785-462-3368 or bsmith@pheasantsforever.org.

 

Greater prairie chicken outlook

For those who are eager to get out in the fields and chase some birds, your first chance is already upon us.

The greater prairie chicken early season opened this past weekend in Kansas, allowing hunters to take two birds per day through Oct. 15 before the regular season opens Nov. 16.

Hunting is allowed in all of Kansas except for the southwest unit. While greater prairie chickens can be harvested, the lesser prairie chicken can’t be legally taken, which is why the unit is closed to hunting for chickens.

Those wishing to hunt for greater prairie chickens must purchase a $2.50 Prairie Chicken Permit in addition to having a valid Kansas hunting license.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism recently unveiled its 2019-20 Upland Bird Hunting Forecast, with mostly good news for hunters.

For those looking to pursue greater prairie chickens, the forecast says your best bet is to head west in search of the grouse.

“Greater prairie chickens have expanded in numbers and range in the northwestern portion of the state while declining in the eastern regions,” the forecast said. “Hunting opportunities will be best in the Northern High Plains and Smoky Hills regions this fall, where populations have either been increasing or stable, and public access is more abundant.”

 

Quail outlook

The forecast says that quail populations should also still be quite solid in Kansas, which in recent years saw a boom in the species.

“While total harvest has remained below average due to decreasing hunter participation, the average daily bag has remained at some of the highest levels observed in 20 years,” the forecast said.

The bobwhite whistle survey in spring 2019 saw a modest decline following a generally poor production season in 2018, according to the forecast. However, this is relative to a 20-year high in 2017, so despite the decline, spring densities were still well above average. In addition, the report said, the 2019 roadside survey index was just slightly higher than 2018, suggesting production compensated for any reductions previously recorded. However, it said that regional quail densities have changed because heavy precipitation and associated flooding across the eastern regions reduced productivity.

“Kansas maintains one of the premier quail populations in the country and harvest will again be among the highest this year,” the forecast said. “The best opportunities will be found in the central regions, extending east into the northern Flint Hills and west into the Southern High Plains.”

The regular Kansas quail season runs Nov. 9 to Jan. 31, 2020, with a youth season preceding it Nov. 2-3. The daily bag limit is eight birds during the regular season and four during the youth season.

 

Pheasant outlook

The forecast was generous, though not as generous as with quail, when it came to ringnecks, saying pheasant hunting in Kansas should be fair to locally good this year.

Heavy winter precipitation made hunting conditions tough in 2018, the report said, but provided ample soil moisture entering the 2019 nesting season.

"A few late winter storms raised some concern in western Kansas, but the spring crowing index remained the same as 2018, indicating there was no measurable impact on over-winter survival," it said. "Heavy rainfall continued throughout the spring and resulted in high levels of nest abandonment. However, nests that did hatch appear to have responded to the plentiful cover with relatively high chick survival, indicated by larger brood sizes."

The counts through much of central Kansas decreased, the forecast said, while numbers farther west increased or remained similar to last year.

“Kansas continues to maintain one of the best pheasant populations in the country and the fall harvest should again be among the leading states,” the forecast said. “The highest densities this year will likely be in the High Plains regions of western Kansas.”

The pheasant season coincides with quail season, beginning Nov. 9 and running through January with a two-day youth season Nov. 2-3. The daily bag limit is four cocks during the regular season and two cocks during youth season. Pheasants in possession for transportation must retain intact a foot, plumage or some part that will determine sex.

 

KCT to join Crappie Masters

The Kansas Crappie Trail made waves last weekend, announcing on Sept. 14 that the club will become the Kansas division of Crappie Masters, the elite crappie angling tournament trail.

With the move will come big changes for the KCT, some of which will become clearer at a later date as KCT organizer Dylan Faulconer continues to work out the details.

"We will be a membership club, we will allow minnows and multiple-pole fishing again, if you win any of the Kansas tournaments or place top three in the final points race, you will be eligible to fish in the Crappie Masters national championship, and they are hoping first place brings in 70 grand cash," Faulconer said. "There are still some things Mike (Vallentine, owner and president of Crappie Masters) and I are hashing out, but I want it to be a premiere tournament series for the locals."

The KCT, which has just one event remaining on the season after Saturday, also unveiled a tentative 2020 tournament schedule last week.