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Hunting club creates habitat for wildlife

The Park Rapids Tall Pine Toms chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation has been sprucing up habitats for turkey and other wildlife in the Hubbard County area.

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Beginning in the 1960s through 2008, the DNR released wild turkeys throughout much of Minnesota. Initial releases used live-trapped turkeys from Missouri, New York, Illinois, and other states. Later, thousands of birds were translocated within Minnesota.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR
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PARK RAPIDS, Minn. — Wild turkeys and other varieties of wildlife are benefiting from a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Park Rapids Tall Pine Toms chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

According to a press release from the DNR, the TPT conducted habitat enhancement projects during the past two years on 796 acres of state forest land around Park Rapids.

Projects were designed to improve current and future turkey habitat, while also benefiting other species such as deer, bear, squirrels, partridge, grouse and songbirds.

Activities included brush cutting to eliminate competition and encourage oak regeneration, planting oak as a future food source, and planting pine seedlings for future roosting sites.

Dano Crandall, TPT president, explained that when forests have trees that are too old and the undergrowth becomes overgrown, it’s no good as habitat.

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“There’s areas that we literally just cut out all species of trees and then replanted in a species that enhances the animals to come to that area and use it,” he said. “Deer browsing on trees. They do not like pine needles, but in desperate times they will eat pine needles. They prefer aspen and popple for eating. Turkeys – acorns from your oak trees, they eat a lot of those, (as do) deer, rabbits, squirrels.”

In springtime, Crandall said, poults (young turkeys) live on insects, and certain flowering trees promote insect activity. “You need grasslands for grasshoppers and bugs for the poults to eat."

Habitat management, research and partnerships between the DNR and NWTF have created healthy wild turkey populations and excellent hunting opportunities in Minnesota, the DNR release stated.

Crandall explained that the club hired contractors to do the actual work on county and state forest land. “They go in and they cut out the trees that they don’t want there, and then they replant oak,” he said. “If there’s oak trees growing there, they clean out the older trees so that those younger ones can grow.

“You know, an acorn falls in the woods and it will start growing into an oak tree. But if you’ve got 20-, 30-foot-tall pine trees with a really big canopy, that oak tree’s not gonna grow. So they’re gonna enhance that area so that oak tree can grow.”

According to the DNR release, the Hubbard County projects were funded with a $13,000 grant from the NWTF Super Fund, which in turn served as a 10% match to secure about $120,000 on Conservation Partners Legacy (CPL) funding. This comes from the Outdoor Heritage Fund through Minnesota’s 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

Crandall gave former DNR employee Tom Stursa credit for writing the grants and focusing them on and around Hubbard County.

Working behind the scenes

Crandall said local hunting clubs, including the Tall Pine Toms as well as the Park Rapids chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, have done a lot of work that goes unrecognized by the general public.

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“We’ve done numerous trails,” he said. “There’s a couple three in Smoky Hills. I’ve walked them. They just go in and clear out a path. They plant seed in there, whether it be wheat or rye or grass blends, and it’s a hunter walking trail. And not just a hunter can walk it; anybody can walk it. You can’t drive on it. And you just go through and walk through the woods.”

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Crandall described one trail in the Smoky Hills State Forest that leads to a series of big clearings carpeted with natural grasses. “It’s just an area for the deer and the turkey and the animals to have lunch, instead of it being overgrown with forest,” he said.

Habitat benefits wildlife, people

When habitat is threatened, he said, people will see more animals in town because that’s where the food is. “There’s more pressure,” he said. “You start getting development out in these areas, and there’s gonna be no habitat for any animals.”

Crandall called the results of the habitat projects a benefit for hunters, for people who like to walk through the woods, and for the wildlife.

“It’s for anybody who wants to go out there and enjoy nature,” he said. “You can be walking on one of these trails and come to one of these openings, and boom! There’s three, four deer. There’s five, six turkeys. A partridge flew out. Things that you’re not gonna see in town, but they’re there. And it’s for everybody to enjoy.”

Crandall said the clubs are going to continue doing similar things, and he’s 100% behind it. The chapters are not just nonprofits that collect and distribute money, he said, but “we are for the hunter. We are for everybody to enjoy nature.”

Getting involved and outdoors

He said you don’t have to be a hunter to become involved in the local deer and turkey hunting clubs. “You can come to our banquets and win prizes and things. It helps us leverage money to do these projects.”

He said trail maps are available from the DNR, but said you can spot the trails in the state forest because they’re blocked off from vehicle traffic. “Just take a walk. You’ll see nature everywhere.”

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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