A little later Hargrave and Hjelle resigned. The latter's comments on the nesting survey, when it was completed, are most illuminating and will be set down here as soon as the other amazing result of the survey is described. I say "other" because I believe the resignations were the first result of the revelations bound to follow the survey.
Meanwhile, Robert Fischer and his helpers had marked out 123 pheasant nests. As soon as the eggs were laid, each nest was kept under discreet observation. In most cases each nest was watched for a while every day, and the presence of the hen was reported. The number of nests in such a small area bears out another observation by Mr. Morgan, which was printed with the survey: "...that farming conditions have resulted in the crowding of nesting birds, thus making it more possible for predators to locate nests."
The predators had no difficulties. They destroyed 81 out of the 123 nests. Skunks, squirrels, badgers, foxes, weasels and cats drove the hens off the nests and ate the eggs. The total of destroyed nests would have been higher had not a late snow and heavy rains forced the hens to abandon 24 nests. Farming operations destroyed 12 more. Three hens were still on nests when the observations were closed for the obvious reason: it was hopeless.
THREE OUT OF 123
Out of the 123 nests under observation, only three clutches were hatched. If each of those three nests produced seven chicks, the total of 21 was all that North Dakota got, out of a possible 800 or even 1,000. It seems to me that the rate of survival among the chicks must have been low. The massive attack on the nests would have been followed by an equally destructive stalking of the young birds, to say nothing of the parent birds, by some of the same predators.
Well, there's the North Dakota story. It shows that Commissioner Morgan has proof of three facts: 1) that the effect of predators on pheasants had been minimized by game technicians, 2) that the protection of the birds must start at the nest, 3) that enormous sums are being wasted in many projects and on the cruel and useless stocking of young birds in untrapped lands.
In North Dakota the first major result of the survey was an order by Commissioner Morgan to establish a vigorous campaign against all predators. He set up realistic programs to strengthen the breed of North Dakota's pheasants, a necessary advance because there are many gradations in the pheasants imported into North America, and many puzzles about proper altitudes of cover and proper soil content for their foods. He also started a campaign to improve cover for the birds.
ON THE WAY TO BETTER HUNTING
We see now that North Dakota is on its way to better pheasant hunting. By trapping and shooting the predators it will reduce their numbers to the low mark that prevailed when the animals were kept down by private hunters and trappers, seeking profits on pelts. The first benefits will show up in the figures on the 1954 season. By the following shooting season, there should be an even greater production of birds, an increase that will be directly traced to the decrease in predators.
I believe?and strongly hope?that the North Dakota survey will have another important effect. Throughout the U.S. and in Canada the survey has encouraged conservationists and government technicians to hope that they now stand a better chance in urging the control of predators. Among them were technicians who had carried out projects like Fischer's, and with the same results, but their voices were drowned in the chorus of the "balance-of-nature" boys, who just keep on saying that it's good for the pheasant to have its eggs swallowed and, in time, to be swallowed itself by a fox.