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RALL: Ducks Unlimited plays vital role in wetlands

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Ducks Unlimited member Jack Black (front, left) and committee members (back, from left) Kevin Black, Scott Oberloh and Mary Oberloh stand in front of the dam which is part of the Living Lakes Initiative restored wildlife management wetland's Fenmont Project north of Wilmont.

It was about two years ago that Pheasants Forever Television came to Nobles County to do an episode that featured the efforts of the local chapter.

It ran as a different show on Due North just last month. In that episode, there was one statement that really hit home after I saw for the second time. It was a statement, "HABITAT WORKS."

Sounds so simple.

Yet when you ponder, how after the human hand restores a habitat that nature gives us and fills that habitat with all the creatures, big and small, that inhabited it before it was taken from them, it is true and amazing.

There is almost no need to ever reintroduce wildlife. It finds its way to these important areas.

One of the most imperiled habitat types in southwest Minnesota is a wetland. All of the smallest wetlands were drained years ago.

What we have left now is a small number of the largest wetlands farmed to their very edge. These are really more like shallow lakes. Lake Ocheda, Iona Lake and Heron Lake are a few examples. They are large shallow basins which, for the most part, are very degraded.

High water levels in past years, coupled with vast increase in farm drainage, have allowed fish to over winter.

When this happens, the common carp become so abundant that they stir up the wetland bottom and eliminate almost all of the emergent and submergent plants and vegetation.

This poor water quality creates difficult conditions for other species of fish and you end up with a carp mud puddle.

There is one national organization, represented locally, that is doing all it can to turn the tide on wetland loss and wetland habitat destruction. That is your local Ducks Unlimited chapter.

DU has existed in our area longer than almost any other habitat and conservation organization. I can remember Jim Wychor on the radio, saying 30 years ago, to get your Ducks Unlimited tickets now before they are all sold out.

DU has been a very important partner with the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and has received almost $25 million dollars over the past four years.

I have been one of their greatest supporters and have fully funded their requests almost every year. They are doing the kind of work that almost no other entity is doing.

The best part of that sentence is that Ducks Unlimited is doing it in your backyard. Well, maybe not right in your backyard, but certainly in southwest Minnesota.

One of the differences between a wetland project and a prairie upland project is that there are almost no little wetland projects. The most common methods employed on shallow lake and wetland restoration or enhancement is the installation of variable crest outlet structures and in some cases large and expensive pumps.

You can either install an outlet structure or refill drainage ditches and back up water in an area that, in the past, had been a wetland but is currently under row crop production.

By doing so, you can actually have an additional wetland in the county. This was done in northern Nobles County at the Fenmont Wildlife Management Area.

A drained wetland was actually restored and it added about 30 to 40 acres of standing water. These projects require that you acquire the entire basin and then work with all adjoining landowners to ensure that their drain tile operations are not disturbed in any way.

If the wetland already exits and gravity is in your favor, you can use the same structures to do temporary draw downs to benefit water quality and waterfowl.

The other common type of shallow lake or large wetland enhancement work sometimes includes costly, but necessary, non-gravity water level draw downs. It is done by installing large electric pumps that pump the water over the outlet structure that is sent downstream. This is done in situations where the outlet is higher than the desired water level and gravity cannot be used to get the job done.

Drainage is being done all over the state with the help of funds raised at local DU chapter banquets and with allocations from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. Most of these cost more than $250,000 each.

As you can see there are very few small projects of this kind. There are more than 70 projects in progress in Minnesota right now. Three of those are in Jackson County, one in Nobles County, one in Sherburne County and five in Lincoln County.

I have been a member of this organization for the better part of 30 years. One of the complaints I have heard from folks in the past, who did not want to buy a membership or support the organization, was that they spent all of their money in Canada. The facts of the matter speak very differently.

The local Ducks Unlimited chapter is having its annual fundraising banquet Dec. 1 at the American Legion in Brewster. This venue works great and has more than enough room and great visibility.

You can purchase tickets from any board member or at the following locations, Rall Financial Services and Culligan Water Conditioning. Social Hour starts at 5:30 p.m. and dinner is served at 7 p.m. Additional information can be attained by calling Kevin Black at (507) 329-2223.

In the end, it doesn't matter if you or your dollars are working in the prairie, the forest or in a wetland. It just comes down to the two simple words, HABITAT WORKS. I have toured more than a few of these sites before and after the work that DU did.

It's not a stretch to say that most of the water, post project, is so much better that it is hard to imagine it was the same water body. It takes local folks moving the needle to make projects like these happen.

When a water body goes from a carp mud puddle to a clear and clean wetland, it is a sight to behold. Not only do these projects help waterfowl, but we should not forget that they help humans as well.

Flood reduction, pollution containment, reduced soil erosion all go hand-in-hand with wetland projects and ducks. If a duck could talk, it would say thank you to Ducks Unlimited. We can do our part by attending and supporting this effort Dec. 1.

The two teal that I bagged a few weeks back were just beautiful. I can say that I just love ducks. I love clean water too. Suporting DU can get you both.

Stop by the office at Rall Financial Services and get a couple of tickets.

Do it before Jim Wychor says they are all gone.

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