No. 1 in the nation: Nobles County Pheasants Forever collects 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award

WORTHINGTON -- In a span of two months, the Nobles County Pheasants Forever Chapter picked up two significant honors. In January, the local chapter was recognized as a $5 million chapter in Minnesota. Additionally, during the recent 2015 Pheasant...

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Nobles County Pheasants Forever board members Brad Wehr (left), President Scott Rall and Clarence Mess display the plaques they earned this year for funds the local chapter has put into habitat development. (Jesse Trelstad/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - In a span of two months, the Nobles County Pheasants Forever Chapter picked up two significant honors.
In January, the local chapter was recognized as a $5 million chapter in Minnesota. Additionally, during the recent 2015 Pheasant Fest in Des Moines, Iowa, Nobles County PF was presented the 2014 Outstanding Achievement award for having the highest habitat expenditures in the nation at $1,330,465.
During the one-year period, the local chapter spent nearly $1 million more on habitat development than the second-leading chapter in the nation.
Propelling the chapter to the top of the national chart was the land purchase and development of the Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area south of Worthington. The site was dedicated last October, when Nobles County hosted the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener.
This isn’t the first time Nobles County PF has taken the top spot in the nation for putting dollars into habitat development. The chapter last garnered first place in the category in 2010.
“I don’t know of any other chapter that’s repeated in a five-year period,” said Nobles County Pheasants Forever President Scott Rall. “Nobles County has often been in the Top 10 nationally. Being in the top 10 - being in the Top 100 - of 750 chapters is considered great success.”
As for the state honor, presented during the Minnesota Pheasants Forever convention in January, Nobles County was ranked in the Top 2 for overall habitat spending, behind McLeod County with $6 million in habitat investment.
“Since our inception in 1984, our efforts have resulted in $5,133,000 invested in wildlife habitat and clean water initiatives,” Rall said.
In recent years, as other chapters in the state have accessed grant funding from the state’s special three-eighths of one percent sales tax (through the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council), Rall said Nobles County PF hasn’t been eligible for any money from the program. The reason: he served on the council. His term expired at the end of 2014.
Nobles County Pheasants Forever’s ability to acquire funding for habitat development is credited to its relationship with funding partners - especially those that helped make the Worthington Wells WMA a reality. The 147-acre parcel surrounds the meandering Ocheyedan River, which flows into Lake Bella, where a majority of Worthington’s wells are located. The wells provide the city of Worthington with tap water.
The $1.3 million project was made possible with financial contributions from Nobles County Pheasants Forever, Worthington Public Utilities, Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, E.O. Olson Trust Fund, Pheasants Forever’s Build-A-Wildlife-Area program, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and individual contributors.
“We raised $590,000 locally and so, even if you left out the big partners, we would have still been No. 1,” Rall said. As a chapter, Nobles County PF contributed $40,000 that was raised through the sale of sponsorships engraved on the monument.
“We had 38 people that gave between $500 and $5,000,” said Rall, adding that the $5,500 he received as a finalist in Field & Stream magazine’s Hero of Conservation award was also dedicated for the project.
While the project propelled the chapter to the No. 1 spot in the nation for funds spent on habitat development, the recognition pales in comparison to the real success of the group.
“Our satisfaction comes from the work that is done in Nobles County,” said Rall. “Each time we acquire a parcel that adds wildlife habitat and protects clean water, that’s a win -- even if no one else regionally or nationally recognizes you for that.”
Still, the chapter is garnering the attention of other Pheasants Forever chapters across the country.
As a result of this latest national honor, Rall was invited to speak to the national Pheasants Forever board of directors to share ideas about how other chapters can develop partnerships and positive relationships to create a win-win for pheasant habitat and improved water quality.
“Nobles County Pheasants Forever has historically expended 98 percent of their locally-raised funds on land acquisitions,” Rall shared. “Our success stems from the fact that if you make a contribution to Pheasants Forever, within a short amount of time you can go out and stand on that contribution.
“I believe that is the No. 1 reason for our success,” he said, adding that people from other parts of the state - primarily from the metro area - are choosing to donate to the Nobles County PF chapter because they know it will be used to purchase lands that will ultimately be available for public hunting.
In 32 years, the chapter has acquired marginal lands and established 32 Pheasant Run parcels across Nobles County. That equates to nearly 2,500 acres of public lands available for hunters, bird watchers and outdoors enthusiasts.
At the same time, the group sponsors the Worthington Area Firearms Safety program, contributes to the Prairie Ecology Bus Center, provides hunts for the Wounded Warrior project and offers youth mentor hunts.
“The five-year goal of Pheasants Forever (locally), is to continue to try to make a measurable difference in all of the efforts that we currently do,” said Rall. “We’re going to continue to concentrate on land acquisitions - marginal lands with native prairie, wetland restoration potential and clean water.
“We now look for multiple benefits from each and every acquisition, which is not something we did 30 years ago when we started.”
Rall said there are already four or five potential projects in the works for Nobles County Pheasants Forever, and the group is “poised and ready.”
It continues to seek landowners in the Lake Bella Wellhead area willing to sell land for habitat development.

Chapter Banquet nears
Nobles County Pheasants Forever will host its 32nd annual banquet on March 27 at the Worthington Event Center. This will be the first time the banquet will be at the event center; doors will open to the public at 5:30 p.m.
Several new raffles have been added to this year’s event, with the grand raffle being a matched set of SKB-590 over-unders - a 20-gauge and a 12-gauge. Both a silent and live auction are part of the evening’s events. Included on the live auction will be the 4- by 10-foot banner proclaiming the Nobles County PF Chapter as No. 1 in the nation.
Banquet tickets may be purchased at LPL Financial, 1321 Smith Ave.; The Daily Apple, 207 10th St.; Culligan Water Conditioning, 1300 Second Ave.; or from any Nobles County PF board member.
Rall said last year’s banquet was the top fundraising effort by the chapter in its history, with more than $30,000 raised in net profit. At a time when banquet revenue is declining nationwide, the local chapter’s revenue stream has increased.
He credits the local chapter’s committed volunteers - approximately 30 people help plan the annual banquet, and one-third of them have been volunteering on the board for more than 25 years. Rall said new volunteers are always welcome, and anyone interested in being a part of the group may contact him at 360-6027.

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Plaques awarded to Nobles County Pheasant Forever are displayed at LPL Financial in Worthington. (Jesse Trelstad/Daily Globe)

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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