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Bohlman leaves lasting legacy for conservation

The Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation lost a good friend last week with the passing of Ken Bohlman. Just as importantly, club members say, so did wood ducks. Bohlman, of Thompson, N.D., died Feb. 10 after a battle with cancer. He was 78. Mar...

The Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation lost a good friend last week with the passing of Ken Bohlman.

Just as importantly, club members say, so did wood ducks.

Bohlman, of Thompson, N.D., died Feb. 10 after a battle with cancer. He was 78.

Mark Hadlich of Grand Forks e-mailed me Tuesday with the news of Bohlman's passing. Hadlich, who calls himself the "temporary" secretary/treasurer of the wildlife club - he's held the office since 1979 - said Bohlman was a dedicated member of the wildlife federation. The club meets monthly at the Dakota Hunting Club and Kennels southwest of Grand Forks.

"He believed attending club meetings was important," Hadlich said. "On a snowy winter's night, he would drive in from Thompson for the meetings. This was more than some of our Grand Forks members living in town would do."


In 2004, the federation named Bohlman its Conservationist of the Year. The award isn't given annually, Hadlich said - only when outstanding conservation efforts warrant recognition.

Bohlman's efforts certainly met that requirement.

According to Hadlich, Bohlman's involvement with the wildlife club started about 15 years ago when George Newton, a longtime member, invited him to join. Bohlman had just retired and needed a project, Hadlich says, so Newton got him started building wood duck boxes.

As Newton recalled Friday, Bob Peabody of Lumber Mart donated cedar scraps, and Newton hauled the wood to Bohlman's woodworking shop in Thompson.

"He'd make between 45 and 65 a year, and we pretty much saturated the country around here with wood duck houses," Newton said. "Only club members knew the benefits he provided."

Chances are, Hadlich says, that if you see a wood duck house anywhere within 20 miles of Grand Forks, Bohlman built it. Lincoln Park Greenway, English Coulee, Riverside Park, Central Park, Turtle River State Park, Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge, Ardoch National Wildlife Refuge, Ray Richards Golf Course and the Grand Forks Country Club are just some of the locations that benefited from Bohlman's work.

"His houses also ended up in nearby Minnesota lakes, as well," Hadlich said.

As Hadlich recalls, Bohlman also was an innovator in building the duck houses. Initially, Hadlich says, he used measurements developed by noted waterfowl biologists Frank Bellrose and Art Hawkins.


Problem was, the houses were so big that Bohlman could only make about 2½ dozen houses from each batch of donated lumber.

About that same time, Delta Waterfowl conducted a study in the southern U.S. that showed wood ducks would nest in smaller houses.

The unknown, of course, was whether northern birds would use the smaller boxes.

Bohlman decided to find out and made several houses using Delta's dimensions, which were about half the size of the larger houses.

"Wouldn't you know, the wood ducks used them as much as the larger boxes," Hadlich said. And in Minnesota, hooded mergansers, common goldeneyes and buffleheads also found the smaller houses to their liking, Hadlich said.

"We estimate he made close to a thousand wood duck nest boxes in the past 15 years," Hadlich said.

Bohlman's legacy of providing wood duck houses is important, Hadlich says, but his contribution goes beyond habitat.

"To me, the real legacy he left us is that you don't have to be young and enthusiastic with a lot of energy to be an effective member of a wildlife club," Hadlich said. "You can contribute at any time. No matter what your age. You can pick your spots at what you would like to do and want to do."


Think about that this spring when you're outside and see a pair of wood ducks, resplendent in their plumage, nesting in one of the wooden houses Bohlman made so lovingly in his Thompson woodworking shop.

Everyone who loves ducks owes him a debt of gratitude.

Reach Dokken at 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 148, or bdokken@gfherald.com .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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