Pheasants Forever

The ring-necked pheasant, above, is a popular Michigan game bird. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

MARQUETTE — Pheasants in the Upper Peninsula? There might not be an overabundance of the popular game bird here, which is more plentiful downstate, but that doesn’t mean habitat can’t be cultivated to nurture other species.

A small group of interested hunters and conservationists gathered Sunday at the Holiday Inn to talk about forming a new Pheasants Forever chapter.

And it did: the North Country Pheasants Forever Chapter.

Leading the organizational meeting was Bill Vander Zouwen, Michigan Region representative with Pheasants Forever.

“With Pheasants Forever, all the money except for memberships — which are national memberships — stay with the chapter,” Vander Zouwen said. “So if you raise, you know, $10,000 or $15,000, it’ll all be up to you how to spend it.”

Bill Vander Zouwen, Michigan Region representative with Pheasants Forever, talks at an organizational meeting Sunday for a chapter in the central Upper Peninsula. It was decided a new chapter, North Country Pheasants Forever, would be formed. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

However, it has to stay within the organization’s mission, which includes improving habitat for species like pheasant and quail.

That’s broad enough to work for the Upper Peninsula, which is not the most hospitable of regions for the ring-necked pheasant.

Ring-necked pheasants were introduced to Michigan from China in 1895, and the species quickly became an important wildlife species, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. However, factors like agricultural practices and loss of grasslands have contributed to a decline in pheasant numbers.

The goal of the Michigan Pheasant Habitat Restoration Initiative, of which Pheasant Forever plays a part, is to restore and enhance Michigan pheasant habitat, populations and hunting opportunities on public and private lands. It plans to accomplish this through public-private cooperatives of 10,000 acres or more to improve habitat for pheasants and other wildlife.

“Other wildlife” is key to the Pheasants Forever mission.

“We have people working on mule deer out west,” said Vander Zouwen, with “major money” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture going toward a sage grouse initiative, for example.

A U.P. chapter, he noted, could use money for a ruffed grouse habitat project like a timber cut or creating openings for white-tailed deer forage.

“Another great thing about Pheasants Forever is that you can pool resources if you want with other chapters,” Vander Zouwen said.

Chapters have raised thousands of dollars to promote legislative action that benefits wildlife, such as the Federal Farm Bill that gives landowners incentive to create grassland, he said.

“If there’s not grassland, there’s not going to be pheasants,” Vander Zouwen said. “The thing that makes the most grassland is the Federal Farm Bill.”

Pheasants Forever also wants to introduce kids to the outdoors, who have many other distractions like sports, electronic devices and school, he said.

“Sometimes it’s hard to even get them in the outdoors,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s so hard in the U.P. as it is down by me, but I’m sure there’s plenty of competition for time.”

A Pheasants Forever youth coordinator is devoted to engaging youth through mentored hunters and introduction to BB gun shooting, he said. A pollinator program also stresses the importance of these plants to habitat.

Or even a popular food.

“There’s basically nothing on a pizza that we eat that isn’t a result of bees,” Vander Zouwen said.

It’s a legacy thing too.

“Who’s going to take over and care about the same things I cared about?” Vander Zouwen said.

He is 60 years old.

“I’m really hoping the more chapters we have, the more kids get introduced to that stuff, and if that’s all you did, that would be fantastic,” Vander Zouwen said.

Michigan has about 9,000 Pheasants Forever members, even if it’s not thought of as a “pheasant state,” said Vander Zouwen, who added members also have created many food plots.

“In fact, where I live in Ottawa County, they did 1,200 acres of food plots last year just by providing seed to landowners,” Vander Zouwen said.

Creating food for wildlife is what drew Eric Rehorst of Gwinn to the meeting.

“My main interest here is food plots,” Rehorst said. “Pheasants Forever is going to help deer, help grouse, help pheasants if it’s here.”

Vander Zouwen acknowledged pheasants primarily live in southeast Michigan, with research showing pheasants don’t thrive in land with more than 15 percent woods.

That’s basically the U.P.

However, he again stressed the Pheasants Forever mission goes beyond that game bird species.

“They don’t have more money than they need,” Vander Zouwen said of the Mid U.P. Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society. “They could use some help too.”

A big fundraising tool for Pheasants Forever — and, in fact, similar groups such as Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation — is the annual banquet.

This, of course, takes planning.

“If we have a banquet, what’s the good time of year to do it instead of when all the other groups have their banquets?” Vander Zouwen asked. “What’s a good facility in this area to do it in?”

He offered his help for a banquet to the new group — depending on the weather, of course.

“I’ll come up if the roads are passable at all,” Vander Zouwen said.

At the meeting, he went over the Pheasants Forever charter agreement, which the new group — which will involve Marquette County and adjoining counties — signed. It also named temporary officers and came up with the “North Country” name.

For more information, contact Vander Zouwen at 616-450-2385 or bvanderzouwen@pheasantsforever.org, or visit www.michiganpheasantsforever.org.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.