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The Center for Agroforestry

UMCA News Release

MU project increases economic return on agroforestry through dove hunting

September 30, 2004

COLUMBIA, Mo. - While most Missouri dove hunters attempt to fill their daily 12-bird limit when afield, a University of Missouri scientist only wants to kill two birds with one new research effort.

Josh Millspaugh, MU assistant professor of wildlife conservation, hopes that by attracting mourning doves to agroforestry plantings that include sunflowers, he can provide landowners with an additional income source and enhance hunting opportunities for the state’s 40,000 dove hunters.

"Dove hunting is big business in Missouri, generating more than $5 million annually, and doves are a natural fit for agroforestry," said Millspaugh, who received a five-year grant from the MU Center for Agroforestry for the project. "As the state’s most abundant migratory game bird, doves offer all landowners an opportunity for lease hunting while waiting for the trees to produce a crop."

He added that the Missouri Department of Conservation actively manages more than 85 areas statewide for dove hunting, but that "demand for dove-hunting likely exceeds existing supply in Missouri."

In spring 2005, Millspaugh and researchers from MDC and the U.S. Forest Service will establish agroforestry plantings at the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area east of Lee’s Summit, Mo. Between the rows of nut trees, they’ll seed sunflower plots of various shapes and sizes.

"Our goal is to maximize both dove use and the number of hunters a sunflower patch can accommodate," Millspaugh said. "While we know that sunflowers will concentrate the doves, no one has ever studied exactly how they use these plots."

To quantify dove movement, use of the plots and response to hunting activities, the researchers will surgically implant radio transmitters in doves captured in the study area during the spring, Millspaugh said.

"We’ll also capture individuals during the summer and give each a leg band" so that the doves may be identified should they be harvested in the fall.

Before the 2005 dove season, which begins in September, the sunflowers will be mowed and hunters will be allowed to hunt the study area. MU undergraduate students will staff check stations where they will record the number of hunters, shots fired, birds harvested and leg band information. This data will help the researchers understand more about mourning dove dynamics.

"Although we don’t have a program in Missouri, a state program in Kentucky pays landowners about $2,500 for establishing a 20-acre sunflower patch for dove hunting," Millspaugh said. "This type of traditional lease, or a system where landowners charge hunters by the gun, would provide many income-generating alternatives, especially as the popularity of dove hunting increases."

The researchers hope the dove-hunting project also provides an additional benefit to the agroforestry planting.

"In other agroforestry plantings we have around the state, we’ve encountered winter browsing damage from rabbits that can stunt or even kill the young trees," Millspaugh said. "Planting sunflowers should choke out natural vegetation that gives the rabbits cover, and once we mow them, the lack of winter cover should discourage browsing."

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