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SCOTT RALL COLUMN: Set goals that are attainable

WORTHINGTON -- When I listen to nation-wide radio or watch national news, it makes me feel pretty good to live in the midwest.

We don't have super storms like Sandy to deal with and there are no earthquakes or giant mud slides that threaten our existence. We have an occasional tornado and they can be very destructive, but it's not like they happen every week.

I had a flat tire on the side of the road the other day and my most serious concern was whether I had good enough cell coverage to make a call for help. I did and, after a few 30-minute stops to pump up the tire with a baby 12-volt air compressor my parents delivered to me, I made it home to the garage. I was out on one of my weekly wildlife watching rides.

I wonder what I ran over that left me helpless?

As I was sitting in the dog truck with my wife on the side of the road, I wondered what 2013 might hold and what I would set as my goals for the New Year. Most New Years' resolutions are set so high that most folks never even get close. That "I want to lose 20 pounds in the next 90 days" goal is pretty common, but rarely achieved.

My goals for 2013 are ones designed to be achieved and are good for others in addition to myself.

The first is to get me and my dogs out more often for big exercise runs. This is really hard after the hunting season closes.

During the season, my trio gets to go hunting many days a week. After the season closes, they go from a two-mile run in the tall grass almost every day to sitting on the rug in the living room wishing they were out running. Every time I get out of the chair they run to the door in anticipation of an outdoor adventure.

Many dog behavior problems originate because a dog is not getting the necessary amount of exercise. A tired dog is content to rest on the rug and is less prone to mix it up with other dogs or engage in other destructive behavior. Dogs that are cooped up and receive little exercise might be more prone to bark or chew up valuable stuff.

So, even if the snow is deep, I am going to use the new snow shoes given to me by my good friend Kirk Schnitker. By getting the dogs the exercise they need, I will also be helping myself by not gaining that extra weight over the winter months.

My second 2013 goal is to make a commitment to teach all of my new dogs a new skill. The trio of four-leggers that live at my house already do all I need them to do. I pheasant hunt and they are very good at their job responsibilities. But dogs love and thrive in an environment of routine and challenges.

I read a dog training article a few years ago where the hunting dog owner trained his dog to roll over. Now, I am no fan of worthless dog tricks, but as I read the column, he explained that a dog that is challenged to learn new things is actually happier and more content than one who is not. He got great satisfaction when his dog was sitting in the middle of the decoy spread 40 yards away in a corn field and he could get the dog to roll over. He went on to say he teaches his dog something new every year and that the dog is better for it.

I am going to do this in 2013, as well.

What I teach my dogs will have more value to me than rolling over. I am going to teach two of the three to take hand signals and go to a dead bird they have never seen. This is not an easy task, but with patience and repetition I will have two dogs that can do what few others can.

Less than 3 percent of all hunting dogs are trained to this level. The third dog is going to be 11 years old this spring and I will work him as well, but my efforts initially will be with the dogs that are of ages more in line with advanced training.

I think training dogs is much like being an elementary school teacher in some respects. The dog is unable to do a certain function at the beginning of the month and they can do it well at the end of the month -- much like learning basic math or your ABC's if you are a kid. The satisfaction of helping them improve their skills is very satisfying.

My last goal of 2013 is to campaign for habitat. This is going to be my most difficult effort. With land prices hovering close to $10,000 per acre, protecting grassland habitat is going to be a very big challenge.

In the past, I have tried very hard to increase the number of grassland acres in southwest Minnesota. For 2013 that goal has changed to just protecting and maintaining the current number of grassland habitat acres that currently exists.

Habitat organizations do a great job of raising public funds for their habitat efforts, but at $10,000 per acre, you need to sell a lot of raffle tickets at $10 each. For each acre of grassland that is lost to row crop production, you need to add one acre somewhere else just to break even.

Each acre of grass is important. Before the snow, I saw four parcels of virgin native prairie put under the plow for the first time. Less than 1 percent of these native prairie acres still exist in Minnesota and I saw the conversion of a few of those precious remaining acres being converted to row crop production.

There is an old saying that "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." For wildlife and their habitats, that time is now. In 2013, we will see many changes and 12 months from now the landscape and those challenges might look very different.

The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time and the only way to conserve wildlife habitat is one acre at a time. Here's to wishing 2013 has many meals with conservation as the main course.

If you are interested in helping to protect wildlife and their habitats, drop me a note at and I will show you how you can do your part for this important effort.

Scott Rall is The Daily Globe's outdoor columnist. His column can also be read weekly at