In January, Marilyn Vetter, 55, of New Richmond, Wis., was named CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, which was founded 40 years ago in St. Paul and today is headquartered in White Bear Lake. Vetter replaces Howard Vincent, who led PF for 25 years and who announced last year he was retiring. In the interview below, Vetter, who previously held group vice president and other leadership positions in the health care industry, describes her background and her experiences as a board member of PF and QF, whose annual Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic concludes a three-day run today at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Q Describe your background.

A I grew up on a North Dakota cattle ranch and my husband, Clyde, and I met in high school, in Harvey, N.D. He is a lifelong hunter, and he introduced me to hunting — duck hunting first, then upland hunting. After high school we both attended the University of North Dakota, where I was a communications major, with a political science minor.

Q After college?

A We were married in college, and after graduation I got my first job in Bismarck at the NBC affiliate, starting in 1989. We were there four years before moving to Illinois for four years. By then we were well into upland hunting and Clyde started training German shorthairs. We had grown up primarily Hungarian partridge and sharptail hunting in North Dakota, and our trips back there in fall to hunt shaped our long-term interests. For us, it was a love of dogs and upland hunting — not one or the other, but both. In 1996, I had a chance to move back to the Twin Cities area for work, and to be closer to hunting and our families. By then we had been longtime Pheasants Forever members. We believe if you're going to be bird hunting you should be part of an organization that gives you more and better opportunities to do what you love.

Q When did you join the PF board?

A In 2015. Nancy Anisfield was on the board, and she asked me if I would think about joining. I had been on the board of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association for 20 years and had served on other boards.

Q Describe your PF and QF board experience.

A Of boards I have been on, PF/QF's is the most professionally run. John Gottschalk, who for 18 years was CEO of the Omaha World-Herald and who had served on other boards, was chair when I joined, and we've had a couple of other chairs since, both excellent. The board clearly recognizes its responsibilities: to hire and fire our CEO, to ensure the organization's fiscal responsibilities and to work with PF leadership to provide strategic planning and direction that hew closely to our mission. Eventually, I chaired our strategic planning committee.

Q Pheasants Forever has a long history of women on its board. The late Loral I Delaney was a founding board member and Lollie Plank also joined at the outset.

A Having women involved in the organization, including on the board, is critical. Dr. Sue Ellis-Felege, for example, is a current board member. In addition to being a bird hunter, she's a wildlife ecology and management professor at the University of North Dakota. Ashley Langen is also a board member. She grew up on her family's Illinois farm, was a founding member of her PF chapter and is a former president of PF and QF's National Youth Leadership Council. She's a millennial, and with degrees in agronomy and crop science, she's now involved in precision agriculture technology.

Q Was gender a factor in your selection?

A We wanted to find the right CEO who is passionate about PF and QF, our staff, our volunteers, our partners and mission. If that candidate was a woman, fine. But it's not why I was chosen.

That said, women and underrepresented communities who aren't PF or QF members — it's not because of their gender or ethnicity. It's because they haven't been exposed to us and our conservation mission, which includes upland bird habitat, clean water, healthy soil and climate resilience. When they see others who look like them in our space, they're more likely to join.

Q How do PF and QF broaden its appeal?

A First, we need to convince hunters who are not part of PF or QF to join. All hunters should understand the importance of committing their time and/or treasure to the resource. Connecting with younger generations is also critical. As a kid in North Dakota, I was exposed to the circle of life. Many kids today don't have that experience. Finding new ways to connect them to us and to nature is our challenge.

Q Pheasant and quail, but pheasants particularly, were fairly healthy last fall, going into what in many parts of the heartland is a tough winter. How do PF and QF help keep bird numbers relatively high?

A It's a farm bill year, and we know CRP [the Conservation Reserve Program] will be an important part of discussions in Congress. We must make the critical nature of CRP known on the Hill. We also have hope for the National Grasslands Act. We need to make sure Congress knows how landowners can benefit by these programs, perhaps by carbon sequestration, perhaps by contributing to clean water or soil health. Our goal is to find an intersection that works for conservation and for landowners and producers.

Q What's your favorite bird to hunt?

A In January, I hunted Mearns quail in Arizona. In North Dakota, I grew up hunting Huns and sharptails, and of course pheasants. I like them all, but I will say Mearns quail, which I hadn't hunted before, were a blast.