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08-14-03: Pheasants Forever chapter looks for local areas to create habitat
    Providing an overall better environment for wildlife is the goal of the newly formed Mercer County chapter of Pheasants Forever.
    "Better habitat for all wildlife means better overall hunting," said Gary Steinbrunner, a member of the local chapter.
    The Mercer County chapter was formed after several members from the former Auglaize-Mercer County organization of the same name decided to start their own chapter. There are currently about 100 Pheasant Forever members in both counties.
    Pheasants Forever is a national conservation organization founded in 1982 to combat the continuing decline of the ring-necked pheasant population.
    But pheasants are only a small part of what the local chapter is all about. The colorful fowl aren't well populated locally because their initial survival rate into the wild is quite low.
    Steinbrunner of Fort Recovery currently is raising about 320 ring-necked pheasants to release for upcoming youth hunting events. In May, he received his first flock of 1-day-old birds.
    "They looked like a walnut with wings," he said laughing. "I'm learning they're very territorial and if they get too hot or crowded, they peck each other."
    Steinbrunner, a longtime hunter like most members, said the birds are low maintenance and require minimal contact for better survival rates in the wild. A self-employed woodworker, he looks upon the pheasants as an experimental project. His real passion is reflected in his own property where acres of sunflowers and prairie grass expose his own wildlife habitat.
    Preserving and enhancing the environment for all types of wildlife is important to Steinbrunner and the other members of the local Pheasants Forever group.
    One hundred percent of all money raised locally through the non-profit organization stays in the county for habitat projects, Steinbrunner said.
    "That's one of the reasons we've stayed within the organization. All the money goes to work here," said Bill Knapke, Mercer County chapter president.
    One of the local projects is located on Karafit Road in Franklin Township, near Montezuma. Last year, approximately 33 acres was set aside with funds from the Clean Ohio Act and the local and national Pheasants Forever organization to preserve green space.
    The chapter also helped local 4-H camp members this summer build 40 bluebird houses to enhance a 15-acre burrow area owned by Celina's sanitary department on Sebastian Road.
    Knapke said filter strips - buffer zones of tall grasses and trees located between fields, creeks and woods - are the best way for property owners to individually preserve land as wildlife shelters year-round.
    Pheasants Forever, in cooperation with state park officials, also created a wildlife habitat with various wildflowers along West Bank Road in Celina.
    The local Pheasants Forever chapter and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offer the following programs to interested property owners:
    - Filter strips - Landowners receive a one-time payment of $50 per acre if they plant (and promise not to mow) warm season/native prairie grasses to a minimum width of 100 feet or five continuous acres.
    - Food plots - The organization provides free sunflower, corn and sorghum seed to landowners to promote wildlife food sources.
    - Wetlands - Pheasants Forever helps with cost-share funds to establish these critically needed habitats. Funding is decided on a case-to-case basis.
    Farmers are sometimes hesitant to "lock up" their land for conservation practices, Steinbrunner said. Filter strip contracts are typically for 10-15 years and some landowners prefer to rent out their land for comparable income. Also, some property owners don't like the look of the tall warm- and cold-season grasses and would prefer a more "manicured look," he said.
    Steinbrunner said he likes the idea that so many organizations like Pheasants Forever, Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed, Wabash Watershed, local farm service agencies, soil and water conservancy districts and the Division of Wildlife come together to brainstorm for ideas on preserving local wildlife.
    "This brings a lot of good people to the table," he said.


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