Anderson: Times have been way worse for pheasant opener

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 11, 2012 - 10:11 PM

The state's pheasant opener is a chance to reflect on the progress that has been made and challenges that lie ahead.

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At the first-ever Pheasants Forever banquet at the old Prom Ballroom in St. Paul in 1983, Bud Grant, left, gathered with Howie Hanson, Rep. Collin Peterson and retired state Sen. Bob Lessard of International Falls.

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The modern pheasant hunter, like the modern duck hunter, has much to worry about. Farmers' conservation acres are giving way to corn and soybeans. Wetland drainage continues. And kids in our ever-more urbanized society seem more deeply intrigued by video games and text messaging than getting outside to fish or hunt.

Yet on the eve of the state's pheasant season, and as Pheasants Forever (PF), the state's homegrown national bird club, prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary at PheasantFest in Minneapolis in February, it's important to remember that the hard times conservation is experiencing now won't last forever -- providing enough people who value the outdoors stay engaged in protecting it.

It's important to remember as well that today's so-called hard times don't appear quite so hard when given historical context.

Example: When Pheasants Forever was founded in 1982, no organization existed to carry the upland conservation banner to the Capitol in St. Paul, much less to the Capitol in Washington.

Today, PF has more than 130,000 members and professional staff across the nation, including in Washington.

Hard times?

When PF's founding board of directors voted to hold a fundraising banquet at the old Prom Ballroom in St. Paul in April 1983, it was uncertain whether anyone would come.

But more than 800 did, including a who's-who of Minnesota politics and conservation, from then-Gov. Rudy Perpich, to famed outdoorsman and duck hunter Jimmy Robinson, Vikings coach Bud Grant and Sports Afield columnist Grits Gresham, among many others.

Hard times?

When the late Department of Natural Resources fish and wildlife division director Roger Holmes proposed in 1983 that a portion of proceeds raised from the sale of the newly passed state pheasant stamp be joined with similar funds from other states to lobby for a national multiyear farmland set-aside plan, there was no Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

In fact, the idea Holmes proposed, along with Tim Bremicker and Al Berner of the DNR, was the genesis of what would become CRP, which in the past 25 years has protected more soil, cleansed more water and produced more wildlife than any other conservation plan.

Hard times?

Thirty years ago, Ducks Unlimited focused its conservation in Canada. Today it almost singlehandedly is refurbishing some of Minnesota's most threatened and storied wetlands and shallow lakes, bringing to the table unmatched conservation and engineering expertise.

Hard times?

Hunters today have more chances statewide to target geese than they ever did 30 years ago. So many geese now inhabit portions of Minnesota that the DNR might institute 15-bird daily limits in an early season next year that could begin in August. What's more, if they want to support a good homegrown duck club, they can join the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.

Deer? It might be an overstatement to say they're everywhere, because in some parts of the state their numbers have been cut back too much. That said, deer are nearly everywhere. And the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association works hard to keep it that way.

Also doing well are ruffed grouse and the Ruffed Grouse Society, and turkeys and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Hard times?

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council again this year will make conservation recommendations benefitting water, soil and wildlife totaling about $100 million, thanks to passage in 2008 of the Legacy Act.

That's not a one-time appropriation, but a virtual conservation ATM that will dish out similar amounts annually for another 20 years.

As always, challenges remain. Increased demand worldwide for food and biofuels will continue to pressure farmers to maximize production. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision a few years back that leaves isolated wetlands, shallow lakes and other waters unprotected by the Clean Water Act is an abomination. Too few people have developed land ethics similar to the one espoused by Aldo Leopold early last century.

And, yes, more kids need to get outside more often. Conservation's future depends on them.

But things have been a worse. A lot worse.

Something to keep in mind Saturday while hoping to flush a rooster or two.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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