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GF wildlife club seeks new members to stay afloat

The Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation isn't dead, but it's definitely on life support. That's the assessment of John French, a longtime member of the wildlife club, who's launching a campaign to get the group back on its feet. The club has a...

The Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation isn't dead, but it's definitely on life support.

That's the assessment of John French, a longtime member of the wildlife club, who's launching a campaign to get the group back on its feet. The club has about 40 members, French says, but they're not coming to meetings or getting involved.

"That's the sad part, and I don't think it's unique to the wildlife club," French said. "Getting volunteers involved is a tough deal. I'd hate to see this happen because this group has been going for a long time."

Maybe it's changes in society, or the tendency of outdoors enthusiasts to put their energy behind groups devoted to a single species - be it ducks, deer, pheasants or catfish - but keeping people involved in a local group such as the wildlife club is getting harder.

For proof, look no further than the Forks Fishing Fraternity, a longtime club that faded into the sunset shortly after the Flood of 1997.

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It would be sad to see the Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation meet the same fate.

There's no doubt the wildlife club has done a lot of good things over the years in the Grand Forks area and beyond. The local Wildlife Federation played a major role in time and money helping to secure land for the Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge project. They helped with the successful project to reintroduce prairie chickens to Grand Forks County, and club members have installed hundreds of wood duck boxes along the Red River and other areas.

The club also has done its part for young people, providing scholarships for youths to attend the North Dakota Wildlife Federation's annual youth camp.

All are legacies worth preserving - and retaining.

French says some members of the Wildlife Federation have suggested putting the club on hiatus, but he's fearful that would lead to its downfall. French, a member of the club for about 15 years, served as president for more than a decade. Marty Egeland of Thompson, N.D., now is president.

"I don't want to be a part of the demise of this thing if I can avoid it," French said.

In an effort to get more people involved, French said, the wildlife club is partnering with the Grand Forks Park District to offer a youth fishing day May 20 at Ryan Lake, a 3½-acre manmade lake in the Ulland Park complex north of Kings Walk Golf Course.

The hope, he says, is that club members will want to participate.

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"I thought maybe a way to do that was to get a project that people can really sink their teeth into," French said. "I'm really hoping this will help with the wildlife club."

The wildlife club is planning a special meeting for 6 p.m. May 8 - a week from Tuesday - in Lincoln Park to discuss the youth fishing day and hopefully recruit some new members. There'll be free moose burgers and refreshments, French says, and members will be able to volunteer for the upcoming fishing event.

The key, French says, is to get more young members.

"I'm going to make a lot of phone calls and try to get some young guys to the meeting," French said. "We have to get some younger people involved because our club members are dying. I'm soon 60, and I think I'm one of the younger members."

French, who earned a reputation as a hunting activist for his efforts to convince the Legislature to limit and control nonresident pheasant and waterfowl hunters, says his stance likely caused several members to quit.

"I've mentioned to a few of the club members that I feel responsible, in part, because of some of the legislative stuff we did," French said. "I can't take full responsibility for it, but I thought we were doing the right thing, and a lot of club members felt the same.

"I still think we were doing the right thing to stand up for North Dakota sportsmen."

Whether you agree, there's no disputing that the Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation has done a lot of good things over the years. It would be unfortunate to see the group dissolve.

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Conservation efforts in this day and age need all the help they can get.

For more information on the Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation, contact Marty Egeland, the club's president, at (701) 729-6982, or by e-mail at megeland@gfwireless.com .

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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