When Erik Fritzell set out to establish a UND Game Management Endowment in 2016, his goal was to grow the fund to $250,000 by the time he died.

Not even four years later, that goal is in the rear-view mirror, Fritzell said, thanks to generous private donations and a matching grant program the North Dakota Legislature established during the 2019 legislative session that awards 50 cents on the dollar in supplemental funds to qualifying endowments.

“I have to die or we have to change that (fundraising) goal,” Fritzell, 73, joked.

At a time when good news is at a premium, the Game Management Endowment is a success story less than four years out of the gate.

A Grand Forks native and avid hunter-conservationist, Fritzell graduated from UND in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management. He earned his master’s degree from Southern Illinois University and his doctorate at the University of Minnesota and taught fish and wildlife management courses for 17 years at the University of Missouri before becoming an administrator at Oregon State University in the mid-’90s.

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He and his wife, Ell-Piret Multer, retired to Grand Forks in 2005.

When Fritzell established the endowment with help from longtime friend and former UND classmate Dave Kjelstrup of Underwood, N.D., he said he hoped it would help reverse a trend of declining game management programs in universities across the U.S. and Canada. While UND bucked that trend, fewer game managers across North America were hunters, Fritzell said.

As a result, the role hunters play in conservation efforts wasn’t being fully recognized, he said.

“You and I know, and some other people know, how much hunters contribute to wildlife conservation,” Fritzell said. “It’s part of being a hunter-conservationist, it’s just part of our blood. It’s been that way for 100 years, people taking in money and raising money for the cause.

“And I think not everybody realized that.”

That was apparent by some of the initial response when he proposed the endowment, Fritzell said.

“When I first started talking to people, they were — let’s put it this way — skeptical,” he said. “Regardless, I was pretty confident, and I had talked to enough people that they seemed like they would kick in, and they thought it was a good idea.”

That hunch proved correct.

“When you establish an endowment, that basically means forever, the objective being you only spend the interest, and I think it’s a great appeal to people,” Fritzell said. “Of course, you’ve got to raise more money that way, but what the heck.”

Given the growth of the endowment, scholarships this year are being awarded to a UND undergraduate student as well as a graduate student. The first two awards were given to graduate students – Tanner Stechmann in 2018 and Andrew Barnas in 2019. This year's recipients are graduate student Mason Ryckman and undergraduate Steffanie Young, who's a junior.

“It really has been a great success story,” said Susan Felege, a UND associate professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management and adviser of the UND Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society. “I think it’s a pretty cool thing that Erik and others were able to do, and I think it’s really helping our Fish and Wildlife Program garner a lot of attention.

“We are grateful for the generosity of so many that has made this endowment possible.”

Susan Ellis-Felege of the UND Biology Department faculty records notes in April 2019 during a survey of prairie chicken booming grounds west of Grand Forks. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)
Susan Ellis-Felege of the UND Biology Department faculty records notes in April 2019 during a survey of prairie chicken booming grounds west of Grand Forks. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Endowments are a key tool in recruiting, retaining and developing students, said Tim Belmore of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation.

“We are the only show in town, so to speak, in terms of a game management wildlife program in North Dakota, in South Dakota and I think the next closest one is the University of Minnesota,” Belmore said.

Tim Belmore, UND Alumni Association Foundation.
Tim Belmore, UND Alumni Association Foundation.

Given the importance of hunting and fishing both to North Dakota’s culture and economy, developing students in careers such as fish and wildlife management is more important than ever, Belmore said. The fact that UND’s Game Management Endowment is driven by outdoors enthusiasts is especially significant, he said.

“They not only graduated from UND, but they’re avid hunters and fishermen,” Belmore said. “This is such an important thing to them because they’re leaving a legacy.”

Such endowments also offset tuition costs and reduce the worries students might have about repaying loans, said Brad Rundquist, dean of the UND College of Arts and Sciences.

Brad Rundquist, dean of the UND College of Arts and Sciences.
Brad Rundquist, dean of the UND College of Arts and Sciences.

“For that reason, they are effective for recruiting or retaining high-achieving students,” Rundquist said. “They also carry prestige, which translates to the continued successes of the recipients.”

The UND Fish and Wildlife Program is as strong as it’s ever been, “in my humble opinion,” Fritzell said, and his hope is that the Game Management Endowment continues to grow.

“We haven't stopped raising money,” Fritzell said. “But it's a darn good cause for the future of hunting and wildlife management in North Dakota, that's for sure.”

Brad Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.