Michigan pheasant hunters 18 and older will now need a $25 stamp to pursue pheasants on public land in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
Introduced by Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch), HB 4313 came about during the first year of the Michigan Pheasant Hunting Initiative (MPHI) — an R3 (recruitment, retention and reactivation) pheasant release program aimed at getting more hunters afield — as a way to fund the program.
The legislation, signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Dec. 31, 2020, has a sunset of Jan. 1, 2026. Monies collected from stamp purchases will be placed into an earmarked subaccount used for the purchase of pheasants that will be released on state lands.
In an amended form that passed the Michigan House of Representatives in March 2020, the pheasant stamp would have been required statewide on public and private lands and included 25 percent of stamp funds being used for habitat and 75 percent for bird purchase and release. However, in its final form as passed by the Senate, no habitat money for pheasants was included in the bill, but the stamp is only required for hunting public lands in the Lower Peninsula.
While the aim of the program is not intended to bolster wild pheasant numbers or improve habitat in Michigan, there isn’t a reason the two goals can’t coexist with a release program, said Amy Trotter, Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) executive director. Programs working in both areas will be needed to help curb hunter decline, she continued.
“We understand there is concern from individuals that the habitat money was removed from the Senate version of the bill, as we know habitat is a critical component of a healthy wild pheasant population, but this program is about increasing hunter engagement,” Trotter said. “MUCC sits on the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative steering committee and is a founding member. We will continue to work with the DNR and stakeholder groups to ensure we are collectively doing everything in our power to offer both quality habitat and hunting opportunities.”
In 2018, $260,000 was appropriated by the Michigan legislature for the release program. The two-year pilot program only ran in 2019 and was cut short by COVID-19 and the shifting of budget priorities for 2020.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, who remained neutral on HB 4313, conducted a survey following the 2019 release program. Three percent of hunters who partook in the program were new small game hunters. About 50 percent of the hunters surveyed indicated they would not have hunted pheasants in 2019 without the program, and 22 percent said they would not have hunted small game in 2019 if the program did not exist.
The pheasant release program was the brainchild of thumb-area resident Ken Dalton. Dalton brought forward a resolution regarding a state-run pheasant release program at the 2017 MUCC Annual Convention, which passed almost unanimously.
In total, six legislative meetings were held regarding the matter — three in the House Natural Resources Committee, one in House Judiciary and two in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Members of the public were able to attend those meetings and give testimony virtually or in person.
MUCC was present at each meeting and testified in both chambers. We want to thank the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, members of the public, the MPHI team and others who showed up to testify in support of the bill.
The pheasant stamp is a true testament to the grassroots power MUCC harnesses through its advocacy work, Trotter said.
“This bill would not have passed if MUCC members, stakeholders and the public did not engage in the process,” Trotter said. “While we can’t always appease each and every member individually, MUCC is proud to rely on our grassroots process which ensures resolutions are thoroughly debated, vetted and voted on by our membership each June and then see them through to implementation.”
The pheasant stamp will be eligible for purchase starting on March 1 when the new license year begins for the DNR. It is unclear whether or not the DNR will garner enough funds in the early part of 2021 from the stamp to operate a release program in the fall of 2021 because payment to secure game birds is usually needed prior to the rearing season. The legislature will need to appropriate the funding each year of the release program.
The stamp is not required for individuals under the age of 18, those hunting in the Upper Peninsula or on private property, which includes game bird preserves, but it is required to hunt on Hunting Access Program (HAP) lands.