About 100 college kids crowded into a St. Paul tavern one night last week for beer and pizza. But the group wasn’t celebrating spring break, it was raising money for ducks and duck habitat.
“This is fun, and it’s a good cause,’’ said Trent Seamans, 22, of Excelsior, a fish and wildlife major, hunter and chairman of the University of Minnesota chapter of Ducks Unlimited, which held its annual banquet at Station 280, a watering hole on Como Avenue.
Seamans, a longtime DU member, organized the banquet to give something back. “Some people think we’re just out there shooting ducks, but for a lot of us, it’s much more than that,’’ Seamans said. “It’s connecting with nature and being outside with family.’’
The university chapter is one of eight collegiate DU chapters in Minnesota, a number that’s been creeping up in recent years. New chapters have been formed recently at Minnesota State Mankato and Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. And the chapter at Bemidji State, formed in 1988, was the first in Minnesota and among the first in the nation, and usually ranks among the top college chapters in fundraising.
Other Minnesota schools with chapters include Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota-Crookston, Winona State and St. John’s.
Nationally, the conservation organization counts about 75 collegiate chapters, and they raised a total of about $1 million last year. Texas A&M was No. 1, raising a remarkable $189,000. (Pheasants Forever, headquartered in Minnesota, has five collegiate chapters and one high school chapter.)
Thursday’s University of Minnesota DU banquet, which included the usual raffles and silent auctions, raised around $3,000. John Marks of Cottage Grove, a DU regional director who assisted Seamans, said college events generally aren’t as large and don’t raise as much money as regular chapter banquets.
“They’re small, but important,’’ he said. “There’s a lot of passion for the outdoors among college students, and we’re tapping that enthusiasm. We’re recruiting future conservationists.’’
Tim Roble of Frazee, Minn., is a prime example. He was at Bemidji State when the DU chapter there was formed, and headed the chapter. Now he’s state chairman for the group, the top volunteer position. “I got my roots in the college chapter,’’ Roble said.
Tapping youth is extremely important, he said, especially with national trends showing a declining percentage of the population hunting and fishing.
“Getting them involved is critical,’’ he said. “It’s building the seed for the future.”
Scott Anderson of Bemidji is DU’s regional director for northern Minnesota and handles the Bemidji State chapter. He said getting young people involved, not only in waterfowl hunting but volunteering to help conserve waterfowl habitat, is important, for Ducks Unlimited and for the future of conservation.
“It’s huge to get kids 18 to 22 involved,” he said. “There’s so many things they could be doing besides volunteer work, but they want to be involved in the outdoors. They understand they are taking the resource and should give back to it, too.’’
Anderson said the hope is that many of the college chapter members will continue the conservation spirit.
“A lot of those Bemidji kids stay within Minnesota after they graduate,’’ Anderson said. “They leave that chapter and want to get involved in another local chapter for fundraising, conservation and preserving our hunting heritage.”
Minnesota has nearly 40,000 DU members, and 2,600 are volunteers, he said.
Ebb and flow
The University of Minnesota DU chapter started about seven years ago, said Seamans, who hopes to be a wildlife biologist or conservation officer. But with yearly graduation, chapter numbers fluctuate. “My sophomore year, it was me and four roommates,’’ said the senior. “It fell apart last year, but we resurrected it this year.’’
Seamans grew up hunting and fishing. “I fell in love with duck hunting, and it led me here,’’ he said.
Jared Bertsch, a senior at Gustavus Adolphus, started the first DU chapter at his school recently and organized the first banquet, held last month.
“We had 120 people show up, and we raised about $7,000,’’ said Bertsch, 23, an avid waterfowl hunter from Woodland Park, Colo. “I grew up doing anything and everything outdoors.’’
He went to Gustavus to play hockey, and discovered he could duck hunt before classes at nearby Swan Lake. A class that encouraged students to get involved in the community prompted him to form the DU chapter and organize the fundraising event. It was satisfying to do something to help conserve natural resources, he said.
“It’s definitely something I want to stay involved with,’’ said Bertsch, a senior who studied business management and has found a job in the Twin Cities. “My biggest regret is I didn’t start the chapter sooner.’’