Pheasants Forever, partners purchase $852,000 parcel
WORTHINGTON — The Nobles County Pheasants Forever Chapter, in partnership with a multitude of local and state agencies, purchased a 147-acre parcel — its 32nd land acquisition — at auction Monday to expand its wildlife habitat corridor in Bigelow Township, south of Worthington.
Purchased for $5,800 an acre — or $852,000 for the parcel — from Frederick and Cathleen King and the Richard Long estate, the property contains a wetland and is divided by the Ocheyedan River. It will officially be dedicated in a noon ceremony Oct. 11 during the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener in Nobles County.
The property had long been identified by Pheasants Forever, Worthington Public Utilities (WPU) and the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District (OOWD) for acquisition.
“This has been on the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District’s radar for 20 years, and Pheasants Forever has made inquiries for the last four or five years,” said Nobles County Pheasants Forever President Scott Rall.
“When the property came for sale … we had to organize our partners and be able to act within three and a half weeks.”
Those funding partners include the WPU, OOWD, the Pheasants Forever Build A Wildlife Area (BAWA) and Reinvest In Minnesota Critical Habitat, which gets its funding from the sale of critical habitat license plates in Minnesota. Other potential partners may include the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the E.O. Olson Trust.
WPU Manager Scott Hain said this is the seventh time the local public utility has partnered with Pheasants Forever in a land acquisition. All of the parcels have been within the Lake Bella wellhead protection area.
“This one is particularly attractive to us,” Hain said. “This piece was the very last piece of highly vulnerable (land) that was not under public ownership.”
Nearly 75 percent of the 147-acre parcel is considered to be highly vulnerable.
“It was really significant from a wellhead protection area standpoint,” Hain said, adding that a surveyor was on site Thursday afternoon to identify an area of the property as a potential future well site.
Just as the WPU looks to protect its aquifers, the OOWD is interested in doing the same.
“We know a lot of recharge occurs in that area (between Lake Ocheda and Lake Bella),” said OOWD Administrator Dan Livdahl. “We wanted to make sure that along the stream we had permanent grass vegetation.
“This is really the last piece of ground in that wellhead to be protected — it’s a big deal to us.”
With survey work already under way, the plan is to burn off the corn residue and grass early this spring to prepare the land for seeding to native grasses and flowers in late May. That project will be completed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The DNR will ultimately become the long-term land manager of the parcel in a transfer process Rall said could take 12 to 16 months to complete.
Unlike several other parcels Pheasants Forever has purchased, in which farmable land is sold or traded for more marginal land, Rall said the entire 147-acre parcel will become a WMA.
“This farm’s crop equivalency rating was … 34,” he said. “This is the most marginal of lands.”
A pair of dormant gravel pits on the site will be leveled, covered with black dirt and seeded as part of the land restoration work, he added.
With Monday’s land purchase, Pheasants Forever has now acquired nearly 2,800 acres of land in Nobles County for habitat. The acquisitions span 31 years and couldn’t have been accomplished without partnerships, Rall said.
“Nobles County Pheasants Forever’s partnerships in southwest Minnesota are the envy of utilities and Pheasants Forever chapters across the Upper Midwest,” he said. “When Pheasants Forever can partner with watershed districts and entities involved in wellhead protection, everyone benefits in total for a fractional share of the cost.”
Les Johnson, who serves on the board of both Pheasants Forever and the OOWD, said Nobles County is becoming a destination for pheasant hunters, with people from the Twin Cities choosing to come here to hunt.
“When it comes to public hunting lands, there are no higher quality hunting on public lands than there are in Nobles County,” Rall added. “That’s a credit to our area wildlife DNR personnel.”
In addition to developing habitat, the local Pheasants Forever Chapter supports the Prairie Ecology Bus Center and Worthington Area Firearms Safety programs. It also helped launch the trap shooting club at Worthington High School.
Nobles County Pheasants Forever will celebrate its latest acquisitions — the organization purchased 80 acres northwest of Reading in late 2013 — during its 31st annual fundraising banquet April 4 at the Long Branch Saloon in Worthington. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m., and advanced tickets may be purchased at LPL Rall Financial, 1321 Oxford St.; at Culligan Water Conditioning, 1300 Second Ave.; or from any Nobles County Pheasants Forever committee member.
The chapter, which is organizing the 2014 Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener, continues to seek willing landowners to allow the governor and his guests access to private hunting lands from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Oct. 11. Anyone interested should contact Rall at 360-6027.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.