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Scott Rall: SMART has made the initial goal

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

It has been a really long time since this subject matter has been in this outdoor column, but recent events have brought this subject back to the top of the list.

The subject is an effort called SMART. This is an acronym for Southwest Minnesota Resource Trust. This entity got its start in 1988 when a group of conservationists came to the conclusion that wildlife habitat protection was going to become a big ticket, high-cost effort in the years to come and that the smaller amounts of money raised at local fundraising events would not generate sufficient dollars for these important efforts.

These folks were absolutely correct as the cost of acquiring and protecting wildlife habitat have increased at the same rate as general land appreciation.

The thinking at the time was that if they could build an endowment of sorts that could be accessed and then repaid over time, that high quality habitat could be acquired on short notice and not be lost because funds were not available when they were needed. In 1988 SMART had about 30 individuals that contributed $1,000 each and after the initial effort the balance in the fund was $30,000.

The funds were used over and over by local conservation groups and paid back with interest. These funds rotated in and out about four times and were responsible for the acquisition of multiple habitat acquisitions that would not have happened in the funds’ absence.

In 2006 there was a resurgence of volunteer effort in hopes of increasing the size of the fund to the initial goal of $100,000. This was done primarily by educating more like-minded individuals and businesses about the mission of SMART and to share with them the successes the fund had achieved even with the limited funds that were available since its inception.

As more people found out about SMART the fund started receiving donations in the form of memorials from families of conservationists who had passed away. Other small conservation organizations also realized that they were most likely too small to fund habitat acquisitions on their own, but that they could make a permanent mark on habitat protection and conservation in their area by making contributions to SMART that could leverage other funds and make meaningful differences on the landscape.

It was a combination of interest on the loans made by and repaid to the fund, individual and business gifts and memorials that the fund has now reached the initial goal of $100,000.

It took 26 years to get there but it finally made it. These funds are held under the umbrella of a registered 501C3 non-profit so contributions are made out to Pheasants Forever and qualify for a tax deduction. The local chapter has been the No. 1 partner in utilizing the SMART account and has made multiple sizable contributions over the past 10 years. The history of this fund with Pheasants Forevers’ involvement is amazing.

The funds have rotated out and have been paid back with interest over 10 separate times and have had a hand in 10 individual habitat acquisitions in Nobles County with a net addition of permanently protected wildlife habit totaling over 700 acres. It takes substantial resources to be successful in leveraging other partners and participants in order to make habitat deals possible.

The list of partners collaborated with to date is impressive. They include the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota DNR, Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, The MN build a Wildlife Area Fund, E.O.Olson Trust Fund, The MN Habitat Fund and Worthington Public Utilities.

I can remember way back to 1988 when my dad Marv Rall made the first installment of his gift to this untested cause. Wildlife artist Jerry Raedeke painted a picture and donated the print run of a Native Indian encampment of the shores of Lake Ocheda that was given as a show of appreciation for those making contributions in those first years. The print hangs proudly on the wall in my new office of LPL Financial Scott Rall on Oxford Street. I made monthly contributions until I, too, could say I was a member of SMART.

Nobody knew what would come of this new vision but many conservation-minded folks thought it sounded good enough to help it get off the ground. More than a few of the original donors have passed on after more than 25 years, but the legacy they have left for wildlife habitat conservation will live on for generations.

I was at the first SMART reception held in 1988 at what was the Holiday Inn at the time and was impressed by the commitment of those folks. I was just getting my feet wet on conservation issues and had, oh, so much to learn. What I took away from that evening was that it takes passion and energy to make things happen. I was in a room full of passionate people who were willing to put their money where their mouth was and do more than just talk.

It was not an evening I will ever forget. The long-term results of that evening are not soon to be forgotten, as well.

The fund lives on as an endowment of sorts to be ready and able to fund the right projects at the right time. As costs continue to climb for habitat work so the fund needs to grow to keep up with them. SMART will be holding a reception on Tuesday, March 4, at 7 p.m. in Worthington. If you are interested in more information about SMART or think that this is a cause you could support, please contact me and I will get you an invitation to join in toasting the success of SMART. This would be a great time to ask any questions that you might have and consider contributing to this great cause.

It will be interesting to see what the SMART account will look like in another 25 years. It will be interesting also to see how many acres of habitat it will have touched over that same period.

The one thing I am very confident of is the fact that habitat conservation will still be just as important and necessary in our area 25 years from now as it was 25 years ago.