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Making and keeping a promise

Lead Summary
Scott Rall

If you are a regular reader of my columns, you will certainly know by now just how much of a public lands advocate I am.
When I was 11 and my parents got me a new bike, I was a roving fisherman. I rode that bike all over my neck of the woods trying to find and catch whatever kind of fish I could. 
When I got a car and could then drive to a fishing or hunting spot, I was sure that my desire to hunt would overshadow my fishing desire. This did not become a reality for almost 20 more years.
There was almost no place in my county at the time where you could hunt without permission. I get that private lands are private and permission is required. 
My problem was that the very few spots that did exist were all tied up with people that had more money than this 16-year-old. 
I must have heard “this spot is leased by so and so” at least 150 times over the years. So, fishing I went because all the lakes were public waters and anyone could fish there without having to get permission or pay a fee.
Up pops a new organization called Pheasants Forever. They started in 1982, with my county’s chapter starting in 1984. Today there are over 750 chapters associated with this organization. My chapter number is 14. Boy, were we the new kids on the block!
Nobles County PF made the very first land purchase in the history of the organization. This property was then turned over to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and became the Wachter Slough Wildlife Management Area.
Since that monumental first step, the Nobles County chapter has purchased 44 additional parcels totaling over 3,600 acres in our 40-year existence. There is a sign erected on each of these sites identifying it as a Pheasant Run One, Pheasant Run Two and so on. My 90-year-old father started making these signs almost 30 years ago. 
Adding to the public land opportunities so many hunters rely on has become my life’s mission.
You can start hunting on PF Run 1 and hunt a different pheasant run each day for the entire season and you will not be able to hunt each one twice before you run out of season hunting days. 
Oh, what a change from when I was 16! Even seeing a rooster during an entire day’s hunt was at one time called a complete success.
As with any success, there are those who try to find as much downside as they can, take the negative take, or just badmouth you because they can. 
I often get asked how much land Pheasants Forever wants to purchase. Just how much public land is enough? You are competing with young farmers; you are running up the price of land! Public lands pay no taxes, so that means the rest of us have to pay more.
I always start to answer these questions with, “Just how much land do you think there is in Nobles County that is in public ownership?” 
I just love the answers. They will with great confidence and in a loud voice say that it is at least 10-15 percent. 
Others will guess even higher. The fact of the matter is that after 40 years as one of the most successful land acquisition chapters in the nation, we have affected .7 of 1 percent of the land in Nobles County.
If you take all the public lands (citizen-owned lands) including state managed, federally managed and county managed in Nobles County, they account for less than 2 percent of the total land base. 
This percentage holds true for almost every county making up the 12 counties of southwest Minnesota. If we were to magically double the current acres under habitat management, that total would still be 60-80 percent less than many folks think exists now. 
If we could keep acquiring public lands habitats at our current pace, it would take an additional 50 years to affect an additional 1 percent of the land base.
In the last research I did a few years back, there were 43 land sales in the county for that year. PF purchased only one of them. PF was involved with only 3 percent of all the land that changed hands that year. 
Of the land that was sold, the parcel PF purchased was the lowest cost per acre of all of them. 
This factual information pretty much dispels all the coffee shop talk about how public lands are just exploding.
For those who have the wherewithal to own their own private land for hunting, I tip my hat to you. You’re in the fortunate few. 
Most hunters in the state rely to some degree on public lands to recreate/hunt. Many hunters only hunt on citizen-owned Wildlife Management Areas.
I learned a long time ago that there is room for conservation on every section. Farm the best and conserve the rest, they say. Economics and conservation can survive and thrive together. 
Each has a place on the landscape. Hunting is a tradition passed down for generations. 
I have made it my life’s mission to be sure that my great-great-grandkids can say to their dad or mom that their first rooster, clutching it tightly around the neck with a huge smile on their face, is something that they will never forget. 
The only way to guarantee this moment is to ensure they have a place to go. Public lands, citizen-owned lands, and enough of them, managed by the Department of Natural Resources are the best guarantee that this promise can be kept.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at

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