Local Pheasants Forever group expands habitat
WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County Pheasants Forever will have much to celebrate when it hosts its 29th annual banquet later this month.
In January, the chapter was named 2010 Minnesota Chapter of the Year from among 77 chapters statewide. A plaque, which will be displayed at Burger King in Worthington, was awarded during the organization's annual conference in Mankato.
Scott Roemhildt, Pheasants Forever's southern Minnesota regional representative, said Nobles County was selected for the top honor based on more than a dozen criteria -- from youth education to habitat work and general involvement with the Pheasants Forever organization.
"The chapter was involved with our DNR Youth Mentor Hunt this fall," Roemhildt said. "Members have also been more than willing to take new hunters out in the field and get them started hunting."
Still, it was the chapter's ability to acquire lands and improve habitat for pheasants that is most noteworthy.
"Two years ago, Nobles County was the top (chapter) in habitat development in the nation," Roemhildt added.
The latest award comes on the heels of yet another land acquisition by the group. Pheasant Run 29, located in Section 29 of Graham Lakes Township, consists of 122 acres of marginal Nobles County land, which will be developed as a Waterfowl Production Area (WPA).
The land was purchased by the chapter in September, and they are now in the process of transferring ownership to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for development. That process could take anywhere from one to two years.
It is the first Pheasant Run parcel in which the Nobles County PF Chapter partnered with the federal agency. The 28 previous acquisitions were purchased by PF and ownership transferred to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to establish Wildlife Management Areas.
"We went with the Waterfowl Production Area this time because the property was adjacent to a WPA," said Nobles County Pheasants Forever president Scott Rall. After offering the partnership opportunity to both a state and a federal agency, the USFWS expressed interest because the parcel has the potential for multiple restorable wetlands.
"The entire property would be considered marginal farm land," said Rall. Jack Creek runs through a portion of the property, and the area has long been prone to flooding.
Once ownership has been transferred, the USFWS will begin work to restore wetlands and seed the property into native prairie grasses and forbs.
The property is the first in northeastern Nobles County to be purchased by Pheasants Forever, and Rall and fellow committee members are hopeful they can purchase other marginal lands in the area as time goes on.
"Pheasants Forever continues to try to build wildlife complexes," Rall said. "A 160-acre parcel can hold more wildlife than two separated 80-acre parcels."
To date, the chapter's 29 acquisitions have resulted in a financial contribution of more than $3 million in land restorations to benefit pheasant habitat in Nobles County.
"That has been achieved by less than 5 percent of all chapters nationally," Rall said.
Nearly half of the county's Pheasant Run public hunting areas have been acquired just within the last five years, and Rall said there are four other potential acquisitions that are in various stages of development.
"We're at 2,025 acres now," he said. "Less than 3 percent of all acres in Nobles County are in any kind of permanently protected habitat."
The land acquisitions wouldn't be possible without the major fundraising effort that takes place at the chapter's annual banquet.The doors will open for this year's event at 5:30 p.m. March 25, at the Long Branch Saloon in downtown Worthington. Tickets may be purchased in advance at Rall Financial, Burger King, Culligan, Rune's Furniture or from any Pheasants Forever committee member.
More than 20 guns will be raffled off that evening, with the Grand Raffle being the winner's choice of a Benelli Super Black Eagle 12-gauge semi-automatic, or $1,000 in cash. Numerous items have also been donated for both the live and silent auctions.
Nearly all of the funds raised during the chapter's annual banquet are used in land acquisitions and habitat restorations in the county, Rall said.
He said their committee meets weekly from January through mid-April to not only plan the banquet, but also to plan and carry out the chapter's mission by identifying priorities and helping to determine acquisitions.
"The committee is open to anyone who wants to help," said Rall, adding that many of the 20 committee members have served since the chapter was established 29 years ago.