Graduate Students Jessica Laskowski and Lindsey Messinger Among Team Awarded Wildlife Conservationist of the Year

SNR students Jessica Laskowski and Lindsey Messinger are members of Southwest Focus on Pheasants, this year's winner of Wildlife Conservationist of the Year
SNR students Jessica Laskowski and Lindsey Messinger are members of Southwest Focus on Pheasants, this year's winner of Wildlife Conservationist of the Year

SNR’s Jessica Laskowski, Lindsey Messinger, and their adviser Dr. T.J. Fontaine are members of the Southwest Focus on Pheasants Partnership, this year’s winner of the Nebraska Game and Parks and Pheasants Forever’s Wildlife Conservationist of the Year award. Southwest Focus on Pheasants received the award on February 2 in honor of the group’s efforts to expand pheasant populations and habitats around southwestern Nebraska.

Southwest Focus on Pheasants—a coalition of wildlife managers, researchers, landowners, and volunteers—studies pheasants, builds habitats, and works to increase the number of pheasants in the area. Laskowski and Messinger’s particular role in the partnership focuses on monitoring the birds and analyzing data to improve population size.

“What fascinates me most about this work,” said Messinger, “is how everyone works together. Landowners let us gather data, Game and Parks provides funding, we do the analysis. The collaborative effort makes things happen on a larger scale.”

Laskowski agreed. “When we’re out in the field every day, things can get a bit mundane,” said Laskowski, laughing about the seemingly endless pursuit of birds in the brush. “But then we look at our field data and start to see patterns and bring our findings to the group. Seeing their excitement about the results is really fun.”

Pheasant populations have been decreasing in Nebraska. In an attempt to combat this trend and to improve hunters’ experiences, Nebraska Game and Parks requested research into pheasant’s behavior and reproduction. Laskowski and Messinger, alongside their team, track the birds, draw blood samples, measure leg length and animal weight, and apply radio transmitters—all by jumping off moving vehicles to capture birds in the middle of the night.

“Being in the field is a great chance to get to know the landscape and the pheasants,” said Laskowski. “You begin to feel really connected.”

Laskowski sited her interest in improving the next generation’s interactions with the land as a motivation for her current research. “In Nebraska,” said Laskowski, “hunting is a way people connect with the land.”

But hunting has also begun to decrease. Messinger additionally studies hunters to better understand their interests and the ways Game and Parks can improve their experiences. Wildlife conservation has long been dependent on funding from hunters, so increasing interests in hunting helps improve conservationist efforts.

These two researchers will continue with their research for the next two years. Preliminary findings indicate that there may be a relationship between hunting and pheasant behavior—especially with regards to the animal’s territory and reproduction. As of right now, though, these researchers are reluctant to make any definitive statements.

Other key partners within the Southwest Focus on Pheasants Partnership include Game and Parks, Pheasants Forever, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, UNL’s Extension Service, and landowners. Southwest Focus on Pheasants formed in 2010.

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