When I was a young hunter, I had neither the funds nor the interest in joining conservation groups. It seemed like a bunch of old guys in those groups, and I really didn’t see the benefit. But then, about ten years ago, my brother, Andrew, gave me a gift membership to Ducks Unlimited. That started an on-again-off-again membership for me at DU. Now I’m a renewing member of DU, and this year I purchased a gift membership for Andrew.
Over the past half-decade, as more of my hunting has been focused in South Dakota, I have also been a member of Pheasants Forever. And last winter, at PF’s annual gathering, PheasantFest, I walked up to the booth of the Ruffed Grouse Society. There, as I was filling out my membership form, I chatted with biologist Meadow Kouffeld; she covers Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the RGS. I asked if she’d consider visiting private land to consult on conservation, and she said yes.
Our family owns 285 of varied woodland and slough in North Central Minnesota. A couple years ago, I reached out to Ducks Unlimited to see if I could get someone to consult with me on our duck habitat. They said they’d only help if our land were open to public hunting, which it’s not. So I was thrilled that Meadow agreed to visit without the slightest hesitation.
That visit happened last Monday. She and I toured our land on our John Deere Gator. We mainly focused on about 40 acres of aspen that was logged two years ago. That means it’s now young aspen, an ideal habitat for woodland grouse. And, in even better news, grouse are at the top of their 10-year cycle. Meadow pointed out to me an invasive species (eurasian buckthorn) and told me how to fight it; she gauged the health of the quaking aspen and found wilt on the bigtooth aspen; she checked the health of our tamarack stand (see photo above) and found wild blueberries growing. As you can see, I learned a great deal about our forest even in just a couple hours of driving around and over a lunch of pheasant brats.
And in a little bit of good fortune and/or providence, about five minutes before I took that photo, Meadow and I rounded a corner on a trail. Albert was running ahead of the Gator, but I’d called him back because my brother, Ted, told me he’d seen a grouse right there a couple days before. Sure enough, we drove right up to a grouse. Meadow told me it looked like a year-old male, and that it was taking a dust bath. We both sat quietly for a few moments before the grouse noticed us and flew off. I couldn’t have asked for a better sign.
These days, our federal government cares less about wildlife habitat than any time in generations. And, at least in Minnesota, the same goes for our state legislature. As a result, conservation groups are more important than ever. That’s why I’m going to keep supporting DU, PF, and RGS. And you can bet that after Meadow’s visit, I’m going to increase my giving to RGS, because she provided a service that far exceeds the $35 annual membership.
If you hunt, fish, hike, or canoe, go online today and support a conservation group that is working to protect habitat and wilderness. I can promise you that there will be a few more woodland grouse in North Central Minnesota in coming years as a result of RGS and what I’ve learned.