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Training America’s Youth

Illinois citizens may be without jobs or cars soon but they can still take the kids to shoot tame pheasants that the state has hatched and raised for their outdoor recreational pleasure at Illinois state parks this fall.

Like other states, Illinois’ tax supported pheasant propagation program has dodged Wall Street’s bullets so far.

Though Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Kelley Quinn told the Bloomington Pantagraph in March, “Raising pheasants at a financial loss, just so they can be killed, is not one of our top priorities when the state is facing a $750 million budget gap for FY08,” no one apparently told the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) pheasant propagation centers which went ahead and bred 78,000 pellet-ready pheasants anyway.

The state-sponsored controlled hunts of pen-raised pheasants on state lands will proceed as planned Illinois DNR Acting Director Sam Flood announced in July.

Fourteen state sites will offer the family fun including four sites for children 10 to 15.

Disputes about the cost of the pheasant breed and release program date back to at least 1992 when state estimates of the program’s $14.33 cost per bird surfaced.

Don’t overact to the figures cautioned Department spokesman Ann Mueller at the time because they include salaries of people who mow picnic grounds or plant sunflowers in dove fields at multiple-use game propagation facilities. (The state also sponsors dove hunting.)

But that doesn’t mean the program isn’t bleeding red ink added Mueller.

“People are under the impression that the program pays for itself 100 percent, but it just plain doesn’t,” she said.

Illinoisans pay for three state-run breeding facilities including the high tech 20,000 square foot Helfrich Wildlife Propagation Center on the southern edge of Edward R. Madigan State Park near Lincoln, IL where 150,000 pheasants are hatched and raised in 12 acres of outdoor pens every year.

The facility is “very similar to a chicken or turkey farm,” site superintendent Ron Willmore told the Pantagraph in 2004– pheasants wear plastic blinders on their beaks to keep from attacking each other in the crowded conditions like debeaked battery hens–“except for what happens to them.”

Pheasants not shot by hunters are killed by other animals, vehicles or cold winters say DNR officials.

So much for sustainable conservation.

While many outdoor columnists denounce gratuitous put-and-take hunting as barely a sport–“Watching pen-raised pheasants lumber into the air is not my favorite form of upland game hunting. Give me wild roosters any day over their fat, dumb domesticated cousins,” writes the Journal Star’s Jeff Lampe not adding the birds are easier to shoot because they’ve never seen without blinders–they also claim it is necessary to meet the unquenchable demand for birds from pheasant hunters now that wild populations have all but vanished.

Pheasant hunters like Dick Cheney.

Put-and-take hunts are also important for children,” Jerry Rodeen of Pheasants Forever, a national lobbying group which squeezed Illinois legislators into reprieving the program, told the State Journal-Register in April.

“They are the only places these young men and women can hunt and be assured of a good shot,” he says.

But dig a little deeper and what really fuels hunter provisioning programs that ensure a steady stream of animals to shoot, often at tax payer expense–is the fear that hunters will stop.

“When hunters lose access to places to hunt, they become discouraged and quit the sport, “Rodeen told the Pantagraph just a month earlier.

And the entire purpose of state supported Families Afield initiatives which have lowered “barriers” to youth hunting like age limits in 27 states–is to keep hunting from losing out to YouTube among the young.

Sixteen years ago the Journal Star alerted its readers that, “Illinois schools are losing money, state parks are scheduled to close and some state workers only recently started getting their paychecks on time. But pheasant hunters around the state still have reason to smile: Illinois will spend $1.4 million this year to mate, hatch and raise ring-neck pheasants for hunting at 16 state conservation areas. And it will recover only $1 million of that.”

They could run the same paragraph today.

MARTHA ROSENBERG is staff cartoonist on the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at mrosenberg@evmark.org

 

 

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Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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