The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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Outdoors

March 11, 2012

Cross: Local Pheasants Inc. group doing things right

— The Blue Earth County Chapter of Minnesota Pheasants Inc. doesn’t have a glossy magazine, a national staff, a television show, thousands of members, like some of the big-name non-profit conservation groups.

Oh, you might spot a rare window sticker on a pickup once in a while, maybe even someone in an area cafe sporting a cap bearing the Pheasants Inc. logo.

But if the group is a bit short on public visibility, it’s long on results where it counts — in its own backyard.

For the last 26 years, the Blue Earth Chapter of Minnesota Pheasants Inc. quietly has been talking the talk, walking the walk in its mission of improving and preserving pheasant habitat.

Brothers Scott and Eric Anderson, the local chapter’s treasurer and vice president respectively, aren’t bashful about highlighting the group’s success. The group has no overhead, no paid staff and bases its operation out of donated space in a Good Thunder bank.

“Our focus is right here in Blue Earth County,” Scott said.

Most of the funding comes from the group’s annual spring banquet (see box). But the group’s dedication to its cause has inspired random cash donations and bequests from supporters as well.

“One hundred percent of money donated to Pheasants Inc. is spent on projects in the area,” said Eric, who also serves as Mankato’s mayor. “If someone writes a check for $100, it’s spent on a project.”

Leadership continuity and experience — two board members named on the original incorporation documents still serve — have made the organization very effective at writing and/or applying successfully for grant money targeted to conservation.

By piggy-backing their funds with various federal and state funding, the group has been able to double, triple or even quadruple the money available for local projects.

In addition to providing funding for habitat restoration projects, which includes the planting of some 45,000 trees in the county, the group has spent $800,000 to purchase 1,300 acres of land that has been donated to the state to be managed as Wildlife Management Areas.

Perhaps one of the group’s most visible projects over the years has been the distribution of shelled corn for emergency pheasant feeding during severe winters.

The Andersons estimated that Pheasants Inc. has spent $30,000 over the last 26 years for emergency feeding, most recently, $5,000 during each during the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Local connections and autonomy have created good rapport with the local ag community and the ability to act quickly when the need arises.

“Local farmers know we’re not out there competing of the local ag community,” Scott said. “We’re working with the ag community.”

Because of the group’s local control of funds, it has been able to act quickly, sometimes in just a matter of a day or two, on important issues.

 In one instance, an emergency meeting was called in one day to approve a $165,000 purchase of a key land parcel that suddenly became available adjacent to an existing WMA.

While the group’s good work might not be known by locals, it has not escaped the attention of the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which last year presented the chapter with its Sportsman’s Club of the Decade award.

Mike Malling, a biologist with the USFW based out of Jordan, has worked with the Blue Earth County group for the last 16 years.

He said that of the 50 or so conservation groups and clubs he works with in his 14-county area, the Blue Earth County chapter is one of the most dedicated. “They’re the best,” he said. “They’ve just been phenomenal to work with over the years.”

Most recently, Pheasants Inc. and the USFW have partnered on the acquisition of the Lincoln Waterfowl Production area southwest of Lake Crystal.

When completed, the 520-acre parcel will feature several restored wetland basins and upland areas, all of it eventually open to public use.

As the Andersons circled the parcel last week on sticky township roads on a quick tour of some of the group’s accomplishments, they pointed out newly constructed berms, the standing water that hinted of future wetlands. It remains, they said, a work in progress.

As recently as last year, corn and soybeans were the only thing grown and harvested out there.

But in few years, the major crops should be ducks and pheasants.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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