Minnesota hunters may find it hard to find pheasants this fall. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says the state’s pheasant index is down 26-percent when compared to last year. A report released Tuesday blames the decline on the continuing loss of habitat.

“There has been a steady decline in undisturbed nesting cover since the mid-2000s, and our pheasant population has declined as a result,” said Nicole Davros, the DNR research scientist who oversees the annual August roadside survey that monitors pheasant population trends. “Although it appeared mild winter weather and dry summer weather might boost our numbers, that wasn’t the case.”

The data shows the 2017 pheasant index is 32-percent the 10-year average and 62-percent under the DNR ‘s long-term average at just over 38 birds per 100 miles driven.

The report shows the state has lost nearly 687,000 acres of Conservation Reserve Program acres over the last 10-years. South-central and southeast Minnesota were the only regions that did not experience declines in the pheasant index, while the highest counts were found in west central, southwest and south-central Minnesota, where the DNR’s survey found bird counts as high as 55 per 100 miles driven.

The 2017 pheasant hunting season opens October 14 and runs through the end of the year.