Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

More pheasants now!’

Redwood Falls, Minn. An effort to boost pheasant numbers and
provide more public hunting opportunities is gathering steam in
Redwood County, where a nonprofit organization is purchasing land
for public use and working with landowners to improve wildlife
habitat.

Larry Kaardal, one of the founders of Waukon RIM, says that
restoring pheasant populations to levels of 200 to 300 birds per
square mile in places with prime habitat is not an unrealistic
goal. Although pheasants are the focus of the organization’s
efforts, Kaardal says all farmland wildlife will benefit from
habitat improvements.

“Pheasants are the motivational bird out here,” says Kaardal.
“Pheasants are the birds landowners grew up with and the ones they
want back.”

Historically, pheasants where abundant in Redwood County. They
dwindled in numbers as agricultural uses of the land became more
intensive and eliminated habitat. The current opportunity to bring
pheasants back is coupled with state and national conservation
efforts intended to repair ecological damage and improve water
quality in the Minnesota River drainage.

Waukon RIM was started when a landowner tried to donate a
property where habitat was protected with an easement though the
state’s Re-Invest in Minnesota (RIM) program. Laws prevented the
Minnesota DNR from acquiring land with an existing RIM easement,
and local sportsman’s clubs were unable to take it over. Kaardal
says local wildlife interests created the nonprofit, Waukon RIM as
an entity to own and manage properties for the public good.

The organization presently manages 582 acres for public
recreation, including hunting, horseback riding, and snowmobiling.
Kaardal says there haven’t been conflicts among the users and that
recreational activities are conducted in a way that doesn’t disturb
wildlife or harm habitat. Waukon RIM pays property taxes and
conducts weed control.

The organization’s long-term goal is to restore pheasant
populations by establishing what Kaardal terms Pheasant Management
Zones. He got the idea for such zones from retired DNR Farmland
Wildlife research biologist Al Berner, who serves as a consultant
for the organization.

Simply put, a Pheasant Management Zone is an area three miles by
three miles (nine square miles) that contains the habitat elements
pheasants need to survive. To support a high pheasant population, a
zone needs at least 20 contiguous acres of heavy cover for a core
wintering area and a nearby winter food source. It also must have
at least 66 acres of undisturbed perennial nesting cover.

Berner has encouraged Waukon RIM to identify lands with the
county that can be developed into Pheasant Management Zones. Then
the organization can work with landowners to develop the essential
habitat. In a portion of the state where most wetlands have been
drained and intensive row-cropping is the predominate farming
method, not every nine-square mile block can be restored for
pheasant habitat.

“Realistically, we can do habitat work along the river
corridors,” Kaardal says.

Once potential Pheasant Management Zones are identified, Waukon
RIM approaches landowners and asks if it can provide assistance
with habitat improvements. Landowners are encouraged to enroll
eligible acreage in state and federal set-aside programs. The group
also works with a private company called Prairie Land Management to
assist landowners with appropriate habitat plantings. Free winter
pheasant feeders are supplied to cooperating landowners.

During the winter, free corn is available once a week for people
who are feeding pheasants. To pay for the corn, Kaardal is selling
specially labelled bottled water called Pheasant Water. Both the
water and the feeding program have been locally popular.

In fact, so much interest has developed in Waukon RIM’s approach
to farmland wildlife habitat restoration that the organization is
sponsoring a conference intended to show other conservationists how
to initiate similar efforts.

The “More Pheasants Now!” spring conference is scheduled for
Saturday, April 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Jackpot Junction
Casino Hotel in Morton. Speakers include Berner, Kyle Thompson of
Prairie Land Management, Marilyn Berhardson of the Redwood County
Soil and Water Conservation District, Matt Holland of Pheasants
Forever, and John Tschohl of the Game and Fish Coalition.

Information about the conference is available at (800) 637-6375.
Kaardal says Waukon RIM is working to fill gaps left by DNR
wildlife management. The organization is trying to coordinate its
habitat improvements with existing state Wildlife Management
Areas.

He sees his efforts as linking the work of private landowners,
conservation groups, and the DNR. Berner agrees.

“Larry is playing an interesting role as a liaison between
landowners, and state and federal agencies,” Berner says. “Any way
we can get the land into good habitat and provide public hunting is
a step in the right direction.”

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