All I Want For Christmas

As the fabled songs says….”All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth”; currently all the teeth are still good, no worries there. There are some other worries out there and for me this is a time of the year when I fret over nature and many of its issues. Winter is a tough season for nature and many of our local ‘critters’ will not fare so well by this next spring.

All I want for Christmas….is for our quail population to recover, not just locally but nationally. When I was a kid (and that wasn’t that long ago) quail were everywhere. It was not uncommon for us to bust up several coveys in one day while rabbit hunting. Today things are much different. I drive by lots of neighborhoods with kids riding their bikes…and all in the same place that I used to flush and hunt quail as a young adult. I must admit that this year I have been quail hunting twice and both times I know we were in the ‘locale’ of quail but didn’t flush one bird. That is very dis-heartening and quite concerning. I am not sure what the solution is but I can assume the problem is simple…a lack of habitat. Birds can have plenty of food but they can’t raise young and survive on a blacktop parking lot.

All I want for Christmas…is cleaner water and better land management practices. One of my favorite conservation groups is Pheasants Forever (PF). I hope that indeed Pheasants Foreverpheasants are forever; the pursuit of the king of game birds is something that I am very passionate over. Pheasants have had a tough year throughout most of the heartland. If you go back to the year 2000, Iowa was one of the leaders in the nation for pheasants harvested with over a million birds at the peak. A decade later they have fallen off the face of the earth. Iowa is projected to have a harvest of less than 200,000 birds; that is coming off of a record low last year of 238,000 birds harvested…all of the decline is due to a terrible run of weather calamities. Kansas is the state that I know the best and if you haven’t followed it, they had a record setting drought in the western 1/3 of the state. Drought is just as bad as a wet year. When there is no dew on the ground in the morning the chicks have an almost impossible time getting enough moisture to survive. The other thing that happens in a drought year is the reduction in insects. When game birds are young…there first few weeks, they feed almost entirely on insects that are rich in protein, so a drought year is a double whammy for the population. My family; my boys, my dad and I are planning a trip west into Kansas after Christmas to pursue ringnecks and hopefully the lands that we usually hunt have not been decimated…only time will tell.

CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) is a government land program that was started in 1985 and it pays farmers to pull their croplands out of production for a ten year period. It has been a boon to all wildlife but especially good for the pheasant population. Unfortunately our current state of affairs nationally has forced many farmers to remove their lands from this highly valuable program and once again go back to farming. Selfishly I don’t like this trend as it means fewer and fewer acres that would sit fallow, allowing all wildlife, but especially pheasants a place to roost each night as well as a place to raise their young. Indirectly the reduction in millions of acres of CRP affects our water clarity at a national level as well. The run-off of top soil alone is enough to be concerned about…but along with the topsoil are many pollutants that kill fish and other species dependent upon the said waterways for their survival. All in all, the loss of these many CRP acres is devastating on our wildlife that is affected from coast to coast.

All I really want for Christmas is the chance to be with and enjoy my family. I am blessed with a fantastic mom and dad who are still with us, a pair of boys that I wouldn’t trade for anyone else in the world and a wife that is second to none. So this Christmas as you are tooling around in your vehicle take some time to smell the coffee and just slow down. Nothing I do feels better than to take a walk just before dusk; I love to look at the trees, listen for the various birds and if there is snow on…listen to the silence that God provides for us. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Holiday season in hopes that in the new year of 2012 we will all have many opportunities to Enjoy the Great Outdoors.

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