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Fans of the pheasant unite

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Wadena Minnesota 314 S. Jefferson, P.O. Box 31 56482

Michael Johnson

For many area residents, ring-necked pheasants remain a bird that leaves us wanting for more. While this game bird exists in our area, its numbers are low enough that most folks spend more time viewing them from roadside rather than down the end of their shotgun.

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The fact of the matter is, this region isn't quite as attractive to pheasants as the western and southern portions of the state. But much can be done to help create a more welcome environment right here.

"Because of the woodlands, it's not the ideal habitat," said local upland bird hunter Steve Peterson.

That doesn't mean we should cut down all our trees. Peterson got involved in the Wadena County Chapter of Pheasants Forever like many others to ensure that pheasants continue to have a place here in the swamps and woods of central Minnesota.

The Wadena County Pheasants Forever Chapter, which also includes members from Ottertail, Todd and Becker Counties, formed in 2007 to begin working on habitat, conservation and education on pheasants. Since that time, the group has hosted annual banquets to raise funds. Those funds are all used at the local level. That money has gone to such projects as a youth day, where youth learn about archery, firearms, habitat creation and conservation practices.

Peterson, president of the chapter, said a major part of the Pheasants Forever organization purpose is creating habitat. While the group has not purchased new habitat in Wadena County, they have helped neighboring counties purchase land to be used for pheasant habitat development. One recent development for the group is work on leasing 30 acres adjacent to Sunnybrook Park in Wadena. The project will serve as both habitat development and an educational tool for those who walk by the area.

"We're kind of excited about that," Peterson said. "It does parallel the walking and bike path. That will be something we hope many people will enjoy."

It's a small part of the bigger picture that Pheasants Forever regional biologist Eran Sandquist said is helping the cause in a hard time for game birds.

"The general trend is the bird populations are crashing," Sandquist said. "We were at 40-year highs in 2006. Since then we've had a lot of pressure on the grasslands."

With CRP losing ground, Pheasants Forever continues to secure grounds for public use. In 2013, about 3,600 acres were secured in the state. Those acres will be enhanced with native grasses before turning them over for public use.

While the Wadena Chapter has a focus of growing the pheasant population, Peterson said the work they are doing benefits all wildlife.

"It helps all things," Peterson said. "You see deer, turkeys and pheasants using it.

"It's not just benefitting hunters, either. It helps people who are not hunters. Birdwatchers can enjoy the effort too."

Peterson said those attending the upcoming Pheasants Forever banquet at 5 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Wadena Elks Lodge can get free seed to plant on their property to help create habitat. Peterson said that he has planted his own property into cover that holds more birds than it ever used to. He sees a difference and hopes to continue that trend throughout the region.

"The key is habitat," Peterson said. "With corn prices up, a lot of CRP has come out of habitat. It's been an uphill battle to keep land in the habitat. But I think we've seen some improvement."

Bird broods

Sandquist said this winter is ramping up to be a tough one for the birds. He hopes for a warmer, drier spring to help the stressed birds recover with large broods. Since the birds don't have a very long life expectancy in harsh conditions, it requires great habitat to give them a fighting chance.

7th annual banquet set for Feb. 8

The Wadena County Chapter of Pheasants Forever invites everyone to their seventh annual banquet at 5 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Wadena Elks Lodge. Admission includes dinner, information on the local chapter, prizes, raffles and opportunities to get involved. With more members come more prizes. Top prizes this year include a new Polaris four-wheeler at the local level, and a new Ford truck at the national level.

Youth are invited to attend the banquet as there are prizes and games for them too. For more information, contact president Steve Peterson at (218)849-2238; board member Jeff Miller at (218)232-6703; or banquet chairman Jason Merickel at (218)639-1265.

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