Environmental assessment on FWP’s pheasant release program complete

HELENA – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks continues to prepare for fall pheasant stocking efforts with the final decision on an environmental assessment (EA) and ensuring biosecurity protocols are in place at the rearing facility at the Montana State Prison.

Last week, FWP Director Hank Worsech signed the decision notice on the EA for releasing pheasants on suitable state lands. Additionally, Worsech and the department have worked closely with the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) on biosecurity protocols at the pheasant rearing facility. The rearing facility is being operated by the DOC and has been certified by the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) as a National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) facility. DOC staff has worked with FWP and the DOL to ensure biosecurity measures are in place, which is particularly important with the presence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in Montana.

As a NPIP certified facility, the pheasants are tested every three months for avian influenza. The last tests were done in recent weeks, and all results came back negative.

“We’re taking the threat from HPAI very seriously and monitoring the flock closely in partnership with staff at the prison. The safety measures folks are taking to ensure the health of the flock are impressive – on par with any medical facility,” said Director Hank Worsech.
“They’ve gone above and beyond from a biosecurity standpoint.”

To see the EA decision notice: https://fwp.mt.gov/public-notices/news/2022/may/0502-pheasant-release-ea-decision-notice.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on the proposal to proceed with pheasant releases in the fall to increase hunter opportunities. Under Montana statute, the commission has to approve pheasant translocations. This decision was slated for the commission’s June 23 meeting but is being moved to the Aug. 25 meeting. This will give the public more opportunity to comment and the department more time to monitor HPAI on the landscape before the final decision is made to release pheasants this year.  

To comment on the proposed commission action, go to: https://fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/commission/meeting.

“The reality is, if we find HPAI in our pheasant program, we’ll follow the Department of Livestock recommendations,” Worsech said. “We won’t take any chances of releasing diseased birds in the wild.”

Background
In March of 2021 a new FWP pheasant release program was established, following legislative action. The program’s aim is to support recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) efforts in Montana. This program will engage youth in the sport of hunting, promote hunter success and provide additional hunting opportunities for hunters of all ages.

Under the legislation, FWP will develop and implement the program and release up to 50,000 pheasants annually on suitable and eligible state-owned lands. Some releases will occur a few days before the youth pheasant season opener to maximize opportunity for youth hunters, and some releases could occur later in the months of October and November to increase hunting opportunities for all hunters.