The Outdoors

By Scott Rall, Outdoors Columnist

It is pretty amazing how a little thing can turn into a big thing.  This can happen when a small issue or discovery really turns south and the result is lots of stuff hitting the fan. I think is pretty common in everyday life. Every once in a while, the absolute opposite is actually true.

When the opposite does happen it can really make your day, and I am going to share one of those little things that turned into a very great outcome. Last spring, I was visiting a friend of mine, Kenny Reed, who has a lake place in Pine County Minnesota.  This is about 90 minutes north of the Twin Cities.

We decided to go for what I call a Rall Real Tree Road Trip.  This is a side-by-side ride that goes and visits citizen owned lands managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Most people call them Wildlife Management Areas. As we were enjoying the ride and seeing what wildlife might be out for our viewing we pulled into a WMA.

There was a sign attached to one of the posts in the parking lot area that explained that this particular WMA had been adopted by the Kanabec County Pheasants Forever chapter. My best friend, Scott Roemhildt who was present on this ride is the southern region director for the DNR and I asked just what was going on with this adoption sign.

He was going to look into it for me. A few weeks later I got the skinny. Back in 2011 the legislature directed the DNR to start a program that allowed volunteer organizations to help with minor maintenance on these public areas. The program only had a few participants and for all practical purposes had been shelved. No one in the agency was promoting the program and the pubic was totally unaware of this program’s existence.

I was directed to a section of the DNR’s website and low and behold there were about 4 or 5 WMAs in my county that were available for adoption. I called the area wildlife manager for my area, Bill Schuna, and in a matter of a few months my local chapter of Pheasants Forever had adopted every single WMA in my county.

This random stop at one public area had now brought this adopt a WMA program back to the front burner with a decent amount of heat underneath it. In the past there was always a great fear that someone would get hurt working on a public land and the result would be that they sued the state for damages. In other areas wildlife managers’ past history was that working with volunteers was more work than it was worth for the amount of work completed by those groups.

It was a combination of little agency support and lack of public knowledge about the program that allowed it to fallow for almost a decade. The details of the program look a little like this. The interested volunteer organization contacts their area wildlife manager to express their interest in helping. Based on that groups’ experience they can now sign a no-fee contract with the department and each contract spells out what kind of work they are allowed to pursue.

It took me about 4-5 months to finally get the contract I wanted. My group has lots of experience in this area and I wanted the ability to utilize motorized vehicles to get the greatest amount of work done.  This included side by sides and tractors if needed.  It also allowed us to spray noxious weeks, remove invasive trees, plant food plots and other general maintenance.

Not every no fee contract allows for the scope of work we are allowed to do.  Each organization will have to prove themselves capable of delivering on their promises and doing so in a way that does not disturb or deteriorate the habitat in these areas.

My group has logged over 2000 hours of volunteer effort on public lands over the past 3 years and we look forward to continuing these efforts. Most of these hours where on property bought by Pheasants Forever before the land was actually turned over to the DNR. We can now operate in the same manner when the state actually owns the property. Pheasants Forever’s insurance is the one who carries the liability for any accidents. This is how the state got over their hesitancies. You can read about many different organizations utilizing the no-fee contract to help improve and maintain the lands the state currently manages.  This has always been a item of contention with politicians who claim the state cannot take care of the lands they already have so they don’t need any more.  This argument just went out with the trash.

Get involved in adopting a public land in your area. It can be an individual, an organization or even your individual business. Each of these areas will be signed, so everybody will see your commitment. It is a great win-win and it developed into a great success after one little ride with friends in Kanabec County. A big Thank You to Scott Roemhildt and his DNR team for helping rejuvenate a great program that had just never gotten off the ground. Just think what we might accomplish when we have a 100 or more entities helping do maintenance. A huge side benefit, allowing area wildlife managers to concentrate on their most important tasks while others to some of the more mundane work, will result in the highest quality habitat.