Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

An evening of toasting and roasting Pheasants Forever’s Joe Duggan

Duggan and his wife of 40 years, Colleen, received several steady rounds of applause for their dedication to the organization and the cause of natural resources conservation.An upbeat crowd turned out last night at the Vadnais Commons in Vadnais Heights, Minn., to celebrate the career transition of Joe Duggan. The vice president of corporate relations for St. Paul-based Pheasants Forever, Duggan, 63, has decided the time is right to step away from day-to-day responsibilities to focus more on hunting and fishing while still remaining active in the state conservation scene.

When I started at Outdoor News in 1997, I jumped into the hunting and fishing banquet scene in the Twin Cities with both feet. Within a month or so, I knew Joe Duggan and his wife Colleen quite well, because they were everywhere. Regularly participating in the conservation banquet culture can become a grind, and I’ve heard many people lament the “rubber chicken” dinners and stiff attire necessary to navigate the lifestyle. It’s harder work than it looks, and no one’s done it better, often arm-in-arm with his wife of 40 years, than Joe Duggan. Perhaps that’s why Colleen Duggan received almost as many accolades last night as her husband.

Officially, per a PF press release this week, during the organization’s 33-year history, Duggan has progressed from chapter volunteer, public affairs officer, regional representative, director of development, vice president of development and public affairs, to his current position as VP of corporate relations. Now, he’ll be transitioning to a consultant role, which means working significantly more often from his office overlooking Rainy Lake.

On Thursday evening in Vadnais Heights, several hundred people turned out to toast and roast Joe Duggan who is not retiring but rather “transitioning” into a new role with St. Paul-based Pheasants Forever.

From my perspective, the conservation community needs fewer talkers and more doers, and Joe certainly qualifies as the latter. Back in 1998, while the hunting community was grinding out the effort to place the Right to Hunt and Fish language on the ballot, I remember watching Duggan work a room, directly ask people to step up with support, and close deals. Those in-the-trenches efforts made that vote happen, and it set the stage for the mega-important Legacy Amendment a decade later. 

Click here to see larger​Duggan was the first Outdoor News Man of the Year, in 1999. He set the standard for the award, and if he hadn’t already won it, he certainly would have been near the top of the eligibility list many other times over the years. He played a key role in three state constitutional amendments to help preserve the state’s outdoor heritage, notably with the Right to Hunt and Fish Amendment in 1998. That same year, he was also in involved in the reauthorization of Minnesota’s Environmental Trust Fund Amendment. Many people helped establish “dedicated funding” through the passage of the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, but Joe certainly helped lead the charge.

Also close to my heart: In 2003, Duggan asked Outdoor News to join along with Game Fair and the Anoka County Pheasants Forever chapter with Build A Wildlife Area, which has since raised millions for buying thousands of acres of permanent wildlife and hunter habitat. The effort has generated 35 new public wildlife areas (WMAs and WPAs) covering 11,100 acres now open to public hunting. Included in this total is the recently dedicated Minnesota Veterans State Wildlife Area honoring state veterans – a 604-acre property in Stearns and Wright counties that was also Duggan’s idea. Outdoor News remains extremely proud of our small role in working with Duggan and PF on BWA.

In addition to raising a great family, (his son, Michael, gave a heart-warming and emotional speech on Thursday) Duggan’s been a mentor to an entire generation of Minnesota conservationists, including the editorial staff here and the younger (though graying) Gen-Xers who are gradually becoming the new managers at Pheasants Forever. Joe has stressed that he’s not retiring, only “transitioning,” and we’re going to hold him to that, because he’s got a lot more mentoring in him, me thinks.

Duggan (r) with Pheasants Forever Jeff “Doc” Finden, one of the founders of PF, the groups’s first executive director, and longtime board memberAlways the master of the deal and a loyal PF soldier, Duggan was still selling the organization during his speech last night – to a crowd that was nearly 100 percent Pheasant Forever members! He endured some good-natured ribbing from PF CEO Howard Vincent and DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, who pointed out in a wildlife print the agency gave to Joe, “That’s a pheasant.” (Apparently, Joe’s missed a few in his days afield.)

The list of accomplishments for Duggan is long, but here are a couple of other highlights that really stand out for me.

• Co-founded the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance (MOHA), one of the first state-based legislative caucuses in the nation modeled after the Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus.

• Architect of National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic, PF’s annual signature event highlighting habitat, hunting, and bird dogs.

• Developed and initiated legislative and governor’s office support for the proposal to trade 2,800 acres owned by the University of Minnesota (U of M) near the Twin Cities to become the Vermillion Highlands Research, Recreation, and Wildlife Management Area in exchange for legislative support of a bonding bill for the new U of M football stadium (TCF Bank Stadium) – Read story here.

• Received the 2001 Conservationist of the Year Award presented by Minnesota Conservation Federation

• Received the 2013 Silver Eagle Award presented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Thanks for everything you’ve done, Joe, and I’ll personally look forward to working with you for many years to come.

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