Friends bid farewell to ‘Buckshot’

Prior Lake, Minn. – He was known as a best friend of wildlife, a
forger of conservation partnerships, and a fine chef. Following his
marriage in 1983, he and his wife were paraded around Benson in a
duck boat, during which camo-clad friends emerged from a
countryside ditch to offer a 21-gun salute. In 2005, he was named
Outdoor News “Man of the Year.”

But on Sunday, Sept. 20, Steve Kufrin succumbed to brain cancer
that forced his retirement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
five years ago.

“Koof” was 66 years old, and is survived by his wife, Jill, and
daughters Emily, 21, and Becca, 19.

Friends who this week remembered Kufrin shared a common theme:
The man known to many as “Buckshot” (also, “Bucky”) was a perfect
fit in his career choices, first as an outspoken newspaper man who
lobbied on behalf of ducks and their habitat; and later, as the
point man for a USFWS program that helped rural landowners – with
financial and technical assistance – preserve wetlands habitat
throughout the Midwest.

“That was his calling: He could sell conservation,” said Greg
Brown, a USFWS colleague for 10 years, the final few as Kufrin’s
supervisor.

Brown, the current regional coordinator for the Service’s
“Partners for Fish and Wildlife_Program,” said the agency sought
out Kufrin in 1990 because of the great rapport he had with private
landowners. Kufrin was hired on as a partnership coordinator.

“We needed a guy who could market the program,” Brown said. “He
had a knack for talking to private landowners … hell, he could talk
to anybody.”

Joe Duggan, of Pheasants Forever, agreed.

“Aside from being a dedicated, conservation-minded individual,
Koof was always trying to connect people … trying to find ways for
people to work together,” Duggan said.

“He was a very good friend, and he will be missed.”

Many of his friends trace Kufrin’s passion for wetland
preservation back to the 1960s. Born in 1942, Kufrin joined the Air
Force in 1961 and spent the following four years abroad. When he
returned to his native Benson area, he took stock of the changes,
and didn’t like what he saw. Plows had disrupted the prairie, and
tile was draining the wetlands.

Kufrin, in a 2005 USFWS press release, recounted the 1960s as
when his career path became clear.

“While in the Air Force, I’d get letters from friends and family
that said, ‘less ducks, less pheasants,’ ” he said. “When I got
home and visited wetlands I used to hunt on, all I could find was a
combine and drain tile. The wetlands were gone. Forty years later,
we’re still trying to recapture our wetlands and grasslands we lost
in the 1960s.”

Kufrin made his discontent known in coming years as a writer for
the Swift County Monitor-News.

However, some of those he angered with his conservation message
weren’t landowners, but beneficiaries outside the rural
landscape.

“Most farmers were receptive to my conservation ideas,” Kufrin
told Outdoor News in a 2005 interview. “They live on the land and
want to take care of it.”

Kufrin married Jill (Johnson) in 1983, and seven years later
joined the USFWS.

There, he was able to put in motion his vision for conservation
of wetlands and waterfowl.

“He was a titan for habitat, wetlands, and hunter access,”
long-time friend and duck-hunting pal Paul Hanson said this week.
Hanson, of St. Cloud, who serves on Pheasants Forever’s national
board of directors, said he, Kufrin, Steve’s brother Tom, and Dick
Lambert had been duck-hunting buddies in Saskatchewan for the past
25 years.

It was during those trips Hanson said he learned of Steve
Kufrin’s ability to cook a tasty duck.

“I guarantee you right now he’s probably cooking up some
canvasback for St. Peter,” Hanson said with a laugh earlier this
week.

(Hanson said for those who didn’t enjoy waterfowl, Kufrin was
nearly equally as good at preparing spaghetti.)

Hanson said in addition to his “regular” jobs, Kufrin also was
active with the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, serving as
longtime editor of the MWA magazine.

There was also the old “fins and feathers gang” out of Benson,
Hanson said, “a tight bunch” that advocated for conservation groups
such as Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, and Pheasants Forever,
and helped form several chapters of those organizations in western
Minnesota.

Hanson said Kufrin was successful in his pursuits because of his
ability to effectively communicate with almost anyone, in almost
any situation.

Besides his knowledge of ducks and wetlands, “he didn’t mind a
gin and tonic, he didn’t mind a beer, and he’d fish for bluegills,”
Hanson said.

In 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dedicated a federal
waterfowl production area in Big Stone County that bears his name;
the 739-acre Kufrin WPA is a lasting tribute to the man who
dedicated his life to conservation work. He also received the
USFWS’s National Wetlands Conservation Lifetime Achievement
Award.

Kufrin was involved in MWA’s “woodie camp” and worked with the
Big Brothers program.

According to his family, Kufrin was diagnosed with glioblastoma
brain cancer in 2004. “He beat the odds and lived five more years
before the cancer reappeared (this June),” his obituary says.
“Those five years were a gift that allowed Steve to experience his
daughters’ high school graduations, form a closer spiritual
relationship with our Lord, and develop a deeper appreciation and
love for family and friends …”

In a CaringBridge web site posting on Monday, family members
wrote: “We all miss Steve already, but know that he is having a
wonderful time hunting with his pals or making spaghetti dinner for
the whole clan up in Heaven.”

Visitation for Steve Kufrin was planned for Wednesday, Sept. 23,
from 3-7 p.m. at Ballard-Sunder funeral home in Prior Lake.

Funeral services were to be held Thursday, Sept. 24 at 4 p.m. at
Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church in Prior Lake , at 3611 North
Berens Road NW. Visitation was scheduled for one hour before the
funeral service.

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