If you're tramping a Minnesota wildlife management area (WMA) Saturday looking for pheasants on the season's first day, or following your dog on another piece of public ground or perhaps on private property, you might or might not find a limit of birds.
Regardless, take comfort in knowing that a lot of people, some of whom perhaps couldn't identify a rooster ringneck from a hen, are working to ensure that habitats supporting pheasants and other upland wildlife — grasslands especially — will be present on the American landscape for a long time to come.
That's the picture that emerges from an evolving Pheasants Forever, the Minnesota-based conservation group that since 1982 has organized hunters — its "orange army'' — to advocate for better and more intensified conservation on state, federal and private lands.
The primary intent always has been to increase pheasant numbers and boost pheasant hunting prospects, twin goals that were broadened nationally in 2005 when PF formed a companion organization, Quail Forever (QF).
Like other conservation groups, PF and QF took a financial hit during the pandemic when the groups' more than 700 chapters were forced to cancel their fundraising banquets. As a result, their combined membership dropped about 22,000 from its pre-pandemic mark of 143,000.
More positively, the groups' leaders say, its unaffiliated membership is at an all-time high and membership is expected to rebound as chapters begin again to hold fundraisers.
Yet the transformation in recent years of PF and QF that has occurred, and is occurring, extends beyond the number of hunter-members it attracts.
Now employing some 280 wildlife biologists — second in number nationally only to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — PF and QF are leveraging significant new government and corporate funds to multiply their conservation reach.
"More and more Fortune 500 companies, and even Fortune 100 companies, are developing ways, or want to develop ways, to reach sustainability goals,'' said David Bue, PF and QF chief development officer. "They need partners to do that and we're filling that role.''
A former regional bank CEO, Bue joined PF and QF in 2006 to expand its strategic partnerships with companies like Nestle Purina Petcare Co. ("Purina.'')