Minnesota farmer brings conservation ethic to his land 

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An American woodcock in fall leaves and spring growth. (Photo courtesy of Steve Gifford)

America’s public lands are places for wildlife to flourish and people to recreate. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also know that private landowners help provide clean air, water and native habitat across the country. Together, we’ve been growing more places for wildlife and for people. Take a moment to meet one farmer who is putting his conservation ethic into practice.

Meet Ralph Warzecha, a former skilled trade worker from central Minnesota who, in his early adult-life, traveled the country installing dryers and evaporators for dairy farms. At the age of 42, Warzecha moved back home to manage his family farm. As Aldo Leopold once wrote in 1939, “The landscape of any farm is the owner’s portrait of himself.” Nothing could be more true for Warzecha’s property. He has a connection to the land that goes beyond the crops Warzecha grows or the horses he grazes.

“In the six years that I’ve been working with Minnesota landowners, I don’t think I’ve met someone like Ralph,” notes Partners for Fish and Wildlife Biologist John Riens. “Through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, he has found a way to connect his family farm to our national conservation mission in a community-focused way.”

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A new hunter with Ralph Warzecha after a successful turkey hunt. (Photo courtesy of Ralph Warzecha)

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife program facilitates voluntary stewardship by working with landowners to improve fish and wildlife habitat on private lands. With that in mind, Warzecha reached out to Riens in 2018 in an effort to further improve his 240-acre farm. What resulted were 22 restored wetlands and two fields of prairie habitat that are now protected within the Conservation Reserve Program. These restored areas added to Warzecha’s already managed oak and early successional woodlands across the property.

His remaining agricultural fields and homestead are now surrounded by a mosaic of prairie, wetland and woodlands for resident American woodcocks, wood ducks and other wildlife. While Warzecha retains full ownership of his property, it’s repurposed with a broader mission that goes beyond agriculture and native habitat.

For the past 16 years, he’s offered mentored hunts on his property too, welcoming dozens of military veterans with mobility limitations and youth for turkey and white-tailed deer hunting opportunities. Warzecha also volunteers his time to serve as the National Wild Turkey Federation Minnesota State Coordinator of “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.” This 10-year national initiative aims to conserve or enhance four million acres of critical wildlife habitat and recruit 1.5 million hunters, in addition to opening more access to quality hunting opportunities. Through this role, Warzecha oversees 18 chapter hunt coordinators across the state who, in turn, have mentors under their guidance – all are focused on getting new hunters out and on the landscape.

Thanks to Warzecha’s commitment to growing Minnesota’s native habitats in his own backyard and to preserving our nation’s hunting heritage, more people know about how they can join in this collective effort too.

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