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County inmates release more than 1,200 pheasants into the wild

The last of more than 1,200 hand-raised pheasants were released into the wild Friday by inmates at the Erie County Correctional Facility.

It was the endgame of the county Jail Management Division's Pheasant Brooding program, which is overseen by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The state and the county have been in partnership on the program for about two years, said Scott Zylka, a spokesman for the Erie County Sheriff's Office.

"In the past, there were other county correctional facilities doing this in partnership with the DEC, but a few dropped out and, about two years ago, we had the option to pick up the program," Zylka said.

The pheasants were raised and cared for by inmates at the Erie County Correctional Facility. The day-old chicks were delivered to the jail this past spring and kept in coops, and then transferred to protected flight pens until the birds' release Friday. It was all part of the DEC's wildlife rehabilitation program that, in this case, aims to replenish wild pheasants in areas where their numbers have been decimated by the rapid encroachment of wild animals that prey on them.

"The return of coyotes to those areas was endangering the birds," Zylka said.

The last 100 Ringneck pheasants were released onto the state’s Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area in Collins in an effort to beef up the population there. The DEC also selected private lands on three different properties throughout Western New York for the pheasant releases.

Zylka said the Correctional Facility's brooding program is both popular and successful.

"These are all volunteers who opt to go into the program," Zylka said of the inmates. "It gives them the opportunity to learn some skills and also get out of their cells."

"There are plenty of chicken farms they can go work at once they're released. If they can raise one fowl, they can raise another," he added, referring to the skills the inmates learned by participating in the brooding program.

Last year, the first year of the program, the Sheriff’s Office released about 1,000 birds throughout Western New York under the DEC’s supervision.

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