It’s Worth It In Worthington; More habitat benefits people as much as wildlife

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by Bret Amundson

“Getting more grass in the ground.”

That’s what you have been hearing over and over in recent years in regards to land conservation and habitat restoration.  The new Farm Bill offered some more competitive rates on conservation programs, but it is still a struggle.  While we were in Worthington for the Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener we had the chance to visit a land dedication that tied a big piece of public property together.  It was a collaborative effort that tied public hunting ground together that included the very first piece of land that Pheasant Forever purchased back in 1986.  The purchase was made possible with help from the Nobles County Pheasant Forever Chapter, which consistently ranks near the top each year for money spent on land acquisition.   Read more about the land here. 

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What you are also hearing in Nobles County more and more about is the need for clean water.   Prairie grasses naturally filter water to keep our drinking water supply free of contaminants.  So keeping an important piece of the watershed puzzle in the hands of land conservationists is a key component to clean drinking water for the area.

“What we have for a major water source pretty much lies within a mile of where I’m standing right now,” Scott Hain from Worthington said. “It virtually supplies all of the water to the city of Worthington.  We struggled through years of drought…and despite of years and years of additional exploration for water resources we haven’t been able to find any.  So what we have is it.”

The new piece of public land allows hunters/hikers to walk for 12 miles while staying on public land.

“If you go just two miles down the road here you’ll find another monument,” explained Chad Cummings, our emcee and owner of RadioWorks, a group of radio stations in Worthington. “The first ever piece of ground put in the Pheasants Forever name.”

Pheasant Run 1 began a large tract of connected public land back in 1986 and has come full circle 28 years later.   This stretch of public land not only protects the watershed and offers more habitat for wildlife, but gives hunters more land to walk and pass on the traditions of fall.

“That’s what hunting does in Minnesota,” said Governor Mark Dayton. “It brings people together.  It brings generations together.  3 sometimes 4 generations of people that share that family experience and grew up hunting and are now bringing their grandchildren hunting.”

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This would be my first trip down to Nobles County and the city of Worthington.  The drive south began with a stop at the Bank Brewing Company in Hendricks, MN.  They’re brewers of Rooster Lager, Walleye Chop and more outdoor-related themes.  A portion of their profits actually goes back into land conservation (learn more at www.beerforwildlife.com).

Jason Markkula uses old shotguns as door handles

Jason Markkula uses old shotguns as door handles

After taste-testing a few new varieties including “Smoke Bomb” (which tastes like you’re at a barbecue eating smoked meat), we got a good nights rest and dreamt of cackling roosters flushing off the dog’s nose just within shotgun range.

I’d read about the windy conditions of southwestern Minnesota and wondered how they’d compare to my days living in Fargo.   Because of the high average wind speeds, the Buffalo Ridge area that we drove along from Hendricks to Worthington is toothpicked with over 200 wind turbines.  Easily the most turbines I’ve witnessed in one area.

The soil and climate around Buffalo Ridge makes for good prairie grasses and that creates good habitat for pheasants-one of the reasons this area has become a destination for orange-clad upland bird hunters.

Chris Kruse watches his dog "Gator" work some tall grass near Worthington, MN

Chris Kruse watches his dog “Gator” work some tall grass near Worthington, MN

We were welcomed to town at the new Comfort Suites and Conference Center-a bustling new complex that includes big rooms for banquets and company meetings featuring swanky rooms with plenty of elbow room.  We’d stretch the limits of the banquet hall at the welcome dinner that seated over 400 people comfortably.   Our tables were bussed by members of the Worthington High School Marching Band, who’d be playing in the Outback Bowl Parade in Tampa, Florida on December 31st.

We also had the chance to tune up with some sporting clays at the Worthington Gun Club earlier in the day.    Shooters Sporting Clays out of Marshall brought their sporting clay equipment and set up a course on the trap range for us.

Mandy Uhrich breaks clays at the Worthington Gun Club

Mandy Uhrich breaks clays at the Worthington Gun Club

The next morning we’d be hunting with other members of the media, along with Congressman Tim Walz, who represents the 1st District, which spans the southern portion of Minnesota from South Dakota to Wisconsin.   Also along was our hunting host Chris Kruse and landowner Les Johnson.

The new habitat is good for wildlife and water but what about the economy?  Some towns survive on outdoorsmen and women.

“In Minnesota the outdoors industry of hunting and fishing and other outdoor industries are a 4 billion dollar-a-year business,” said Congressman Tim Walz. “Not much different than the Mayo Clinic.”

Johnson and some friends have intensively managed the land we’d be hunting on for wildlife.  They are big supporters of Pheasants Forever and he sits on the board of the Nobles County Chapter.   In 2010, $1.4 million dollars were spent on conservation by the Nobles County PF Chapter and President Scott Rall was recently named as Heroes of Conservation Finalist by Field and Stream.

A group of hunters poses with their birds at lunch.

A group of hunters poses with their birds at lunch.

We’d see a big flock of mallards and wood ducks, over a dozen deer (including a few bucks) and around two dozen pheasants.  We split the group and divided the land.  Our group would flush 16 birds, 5 of which were roosters and three of them came home in the cooler.  Not a limit, but not a bad opener when you consider where our bird numbers were at last year.   That can be attributed to a different location that might have more habitat and the milder winter in this part of the state.

Mandy Uhrich and Les Johnson pose next to Johnson's license plate.

Mandy Uhrich and Les Johnson pose next to Johnson’s license plate.

 

We’d break for lunch at the land dedication and head back out in the afternoon with Kruse.  A Wildlife Management Area would be chosen and we happily jumped out of the truck to stretch our legs once more.  The worn-out pups shook off their midday nap and eagerly hit the grass with their noses to the ground.  We’d see hunters on properties all around us, mallards and teal buzzing over our heads and a few pheasants would make an appearance.

Overall, it was a good opener.  We saw a lot of hens and a lot of hard working people dedicated to putting more habitat on the landscape.  Hopefully that will translate to a better opener next year.

We’d like to thank the city of Worthington, Explore Minnesota Tourism and the DNR for hosting us and putting on a good show.  And of course thanks to our landowners and hunting hosts for putting us on the birds!

Here are some more photos from the weekend:

Mandy Uhrich and Bret Amundson after a fun morning walk.

Mandy Uhrich and Bret Amundson after a fun morning walk.

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Cumara, Mandy Uhrich's 3-year-old yellow lab searches for roosters

Cumara, Mandy Uhrich’s 3-year-old yellow lab searches for roosters

Mandy Uhrich walks the tall grass of a State Wildlife Management Area near Worthington, MN

Mandy Uhrich walks the tall grass of a State Wildlife Management Area near Worthington, MN

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The Wild Dakota TV Show and their hunting group.

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