Thursday, July 25th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Thursday, July 25th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

A quick chat with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever CEO Marilyn Vetter

PF/QF CEO and President Marilyn Vetter grew up on a cattle ranch in North Dakota. She now lives in New Richmond where her and her husband, Clyde Vetter, run Sharp Shooters Kennel. (Contributed photo)

Marilyn Vetter underwent a lengthy interview process last year as Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever completed a nationwide search to replace longtime President and CEO Howard Vincent, who announced his retirement plans in early spring 2022. She formally took the job following Pheasant Fest 2023 in Minneapolis.

Vetter grew up on a cattle ranch in central North Dakota and went into broadcast journalism following her undergraduate education at the University of North Dakota. A friend convinced her to tackle pharmaceutical sales, and over the next 30 years, she worked for three businesses in that industry.

After college, one of the first purchases made by Vetter and her husband, Clyde, was a German shorthair pointer pup. That launched Clyde’s career as a dog trainer, and inspired them to start raising GSPs. Thirty years ago they joined the North American Versatile Dog Association and eventually became NAVHDA judges. A longtime member, Vetter joined the PF board of directors in 2015, most recently serving as board vice-chair.

ON: You were on the PF & QF board for seven years. Tell us about what it’s like to be a part of a nonprofit conservation board.

Vetter: A board has three roles:

Hire, and hopefully never fire a CEO, make sure the fiduciary responsibilities of the organization have good oversight, and make sure the strategic planning process is aligned with the mission of the group and board.

They should look at things from the 30,000-foot level and the board should not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the group. The board provides a sounding board for the CEO for some of the challenges the group may be facing.

Our board are all enthusiasts themselves, conservationists, bird hunters, and they really care about the success of the organizations and its staff.

ON: The hiring process for your post sounded pretty intense – 150-plus people applied?

Vetter: Yes, it was really intense and incredibly thorough. The general board wasn’t aware of my application until the end, so that it wouldn’t necessarily cloud anyone’s perception either positive or negative that they had of me or the other candidates. I thought that was really important to the process.

There were several steps. After the initial round, about 20 of us had to answer an in-depth questionnaire, then the final step was a few of us presented to the board. The board invested a tremendous amount of time, so it probably seemed intense for me, but I bet it was really exhausting for them.

ON: Now that you’ve been in the CEO role a few months, do you view the board through a different lens?

Vetter: Not so much the relationship, but I see it from a different perspective. You don’t know what you don’t know. Learning what issues to elevate to a board level has been a good experience for me because it’s teaching me patience.

ON: Tell us about your experience with German shorthair pointers.

Vetter: We have had GSPs since 1990s. We started with one, then two, then three, then we started a dog kennel and my husband became a trainer. Now, 70-some litters later – it adds up fast when you just do a couple per year! – and for us it has connected us to our best friends in the world. We had a young boy recently so excited as his dad bought him his first GSP, and then he’s going to run it through the NAVHDA testing. He sent us a picture. Those are the priceless moments from that part of our lives.

ON: GSPs for life?

Vetter: If I didn’t have to groom an English setter, I love the way they move when they’re hunting. I grew up with collies and had to groom them all the time, so I don’t have a lot of tolerance for that. I saw an English cocker nationals recently, and, man, were those little dogs fun. Great dogs for pheasant hunting.

ON: Any surprises or a-ha moments since taking the job?

Vetter: I’ve been really happy to see how well the team works together. It’s a large organization that is spread out across the country and they really are extraordinarily communicative with each other. I would say if there’s any surprises, it’s maybe the complexity of things. Like the alphabet soup of all the government agencies and nonprofit groups out there. I carry a 10-page glossary that the team created for me. I carry it everywhere so when someone mentions a new acronym that I haven’t heard before, I can look it up.

ON: At Pheasant Fest, you said that PF & QF has the largest biologist staff outside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Vetter: We have the largest number of biologists focused on private lands of any organization. There’s over 300 biologists (total employees in PF/QF is just shy of 500.)

ON: PF is The Habitat Organization. How do you appeal to non-hunters who like bluebirds or other species that also benefit from grassland habitat?

Vetter: Grasslands support wildlife from meadowlarks to white-tailed deer. Hunters, hikers, birders, photographers and outdoor enthusiasts of all types benefit from this iconic ecosystem. Given the chance to observe wild things of all shapes and sizes, everyone can forge a connection to the North American uplands.

ON: You’re one of several women to lead big conservation groups in recent years. Is reaching out to women and other nontraditional members a personal priority?

Vetter: Howard (Vincent) really started this a long time ago working with Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, which really had its roots in Wisconsin thanks to Prof. Christine Thomas. We have 11 women-dedicated chapters out there. I believe when women are involved, families are involved and that really is the critical way to allow children to come into this space, and that’s how we make the tradition of hunting and conservation sustainable.

We have a lot of people who are interested in hunting who haven’t necessarily thought about what part of that interest is their responsibility to conservation. It’s our responsibility to make them feel welcome and then let them understand that they do have a role in the big, long-term picture of being part of this community.

ON: Any final thoughts?

Vetter: This organization is incredibly vibrant and strong. The uplands are calling us, and it is critical for us to be investing in habitat as a country because we are losing it at a faster pace than we can build and restore it. We are absolutely committed to that mission and want others to be a part of Pheasants and Quail Forever. Participation, and not just with your dollars, but with blood, sweat, and tears is critical, because it will only happen if we all make it happen.

Editor’s note: The 2024 Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic will happen in Sioux Falls, S.D., March 1-3, 2024.

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