We see that you have javascript disabled. Please enable javascript and refresh the page to continue reading local news. If you feel you have received this message in error, please contact the customer support team at 1-833-248-7801.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Pheasants Forever's Minnesota origin story comes full circle

Forty years ago the Minnesota founders of Pheasants Forever — from the metropolitan area and from Kandiyohi County — met on the shores of Eagle Lake north of Willmar and agreed to the local control model that the organization continues today. The surviving founders of that meeting returned to Eagle Lake to visit about the organization's start and how they made that critical decision.

Forty years after they had joined under a tent along the shores of Eagle Lake north of Willmar, surviving founders of Pheasants Forever returned to Doug Lovander's place on the lake to reminisce about how the urban and rural groups agreed to the local control model of the organization. Visiting are, from clockwise from bottom left: Will Smith, Marybeth Block, Larry Broberg, Lyndon Hansen, Gary Hockstra, Dennis Anderson, Kevin Fladeboe, Bruce Bjornberg, and Doug Lovander.
Forty years after they had gathered under a tent along the shores of Eagle Lake north of Willmar, surviving founders of Pheasants Forever returned to Doug Lovander's place on the lake to reminisce about how the urban and rural groups agreed to the local control model of the organization. Visiting, clockwise from bottom left, are: Will Smith, Marybeth Block, Larry Broberg, Lyndon Hansen, Gary Hockstra, Dennis Anderson, Kevin Fladeboe, Bruce Bjornberg, and Doug Lovander.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

WILLMAR — The call heard across the grasslands of Minnesota was made by outdoors writer Dennis Anderson in a March 7, 1982, column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch.

After years of watching his favorite pheasant hunting lands disappear to crop production in western Minnesota, the writer put out a call to work together for habitat restoration and protection. It led to the formation of today’s Pheasants Forever.

Ring-necked pheasant
“ ... We tolerate winters such as these, when hens and roosters freeze to death, their faces mere clumps of ice after they turn windward to a final, desperate attempt to survive. Have you ever watched a pheasant freeze?” These words written by Dennis Anderson in a column published March 7, 1982, proved to be the call heard across the grasslands of Minnesota and rallied support for what became Pheasants Forever. A ring-necked pheasant is shown in a cornfield near Willmar in 2021.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune file photo

Forty years after putting out that call, Anderson and surviving founders of Pheasants Forever reunited Aug. 13 at Doug and Sue Lovander’s place on the shores of Eagle Lake, just north of Willmar. It’s where a pivotal moment in the origin of Pheasants Forever occurred.

Founders of the first Pheasants Forever chapter in the Twin Cities met with Lovander and his Kandiyohi County buddies who had organized the first outstate group. The urban and rural groups came to an agreement that shaped the future of the new organization: Local chapters would decide how the funds they raised would be spent on local projects.

That formula is credited with the success of Pheasants Forever, which today counts more than130,000 members and more than 750 chapters in 40 states. It’s the only national conservation organization based on that model of local control.

ADVERTISEMENT

This photo was taken 40 years ago of the founders of Pheasants Forever who had gathered on the shores of Eagle Lake north of Willmar in Kandiyohi County. The founders represented groups from the Twin Cities and Kandiyohi County, and agreed to the local control concept of the organization in which funds raised by local chapters is controlled by those chapters for local projects.
This photo was taken 40 years ago of the founders of Pheasants Forever who had gathered on the shores of Eagle Lake north of Willmar in Kandiyohi County. The founders represented groups from the Twin Cities and Kandiyohi County, and agreed to the local control concept of the organization in which funds raised by local chapters is controlled by those chapters for local projects.
Contributed
More Northland Outdoors:
The angler is one of two men busted at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament on Sept. 30. They would have walked away champions, if the event organizer, Jason Fischer, hadn’t decided to take a closer look at their catch.
Game and Fish biologists have completed aerial surveys of the same 24 Badlands study areas since the 1950s.
On the St. Louis River Estuary, diehard angler Pam Zylka catches everything from sturgeon and walleye to drum and bass.
Whooping cranes that travel through North Dakota are part of a population of about 500 birds on their way from nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to wintering grounds in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, a distance of about 2,500 miles.
The first reference I found to house finches in the Herald’s online archive was in 1989, when Milt Sather called about a house finch he’d seen in Greenbush, Minn. The column about the sighting was printed Nov. 2 that year.
To get an event in the Outdoors Calendar, contact Brad Dokken at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or by email at bdokken@gfherald.com. Deadline is 5 p.m. Wednesdays.
Getting vaccinated was never an issue in my world, but many people – some friends included – didn’t share that view. The topic became the elephant in the room on more than one occasion.
Her father, Capt. Pat Znajda, and grandfather, Ted Znajda, both preceded her as Minnesota DNR conservation officers.
Reports are compiled weekly throughout the hunting season and generally available Thursday afternoons of each week.
The endangered birds are expected to fly through North Dakota over the next few weeks as they migrate from Canada to Texas.

Lovander, known to many as “the governor,” had originally answered Anderson’s call by telephoning him to say he was putting together a group in Kandiyohi County. His group would be the first outstate chapter.

“I was getting a lot of calls from crack people,” said Anderson, explaining he had initially answered Lovander’s call with some skepticism.

Others had already called him with all kinds of big offers. Anderson was lured to one caller’s “fundraiser” only to find a few guys gathered around a case of beer in a small house, he said.

He responded to Lovander’s phone call with some caution.

“Do you hunt pheasants a lot,” Anderson said he asked Lovander.

“I do my own August (roadside) counts,” Lovander said he responded.

Kandiyohi County’s founding members were soon to do much more. They hosted the first outstate banquet.

Lovander committed the upfront money for a minimum of 200 meals at the Kandi Entertainment Center in Willmar. Friends, including Lee Wierschem, went to work selling tickets, unsure of their prospects.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Kandiyohi County Pheasants Forever chapter was the first in outstate Minnesota. Doug Lovander, one of its founders, center, is shown with former Vikings coach Bud Grant and announcer Brent Musburger on a hunt.
The Kandiyohi County Pheasants Forever chapter was the first in outstate Minnesota. Doug Lovander, one of its founders, center, is shown with former Vikings coach Bud Grant and announcer Brent Musburger on a hunt.
Contributed

They sold 484 tickets, according to a front-page West Central Tribune story about the chapter’s first banquet held in April 1983.

Thanks to the event, Lovander controlled a pot of more than $20,000.

He pitched a large canvas tent on his land along Eagle Lake and invited Anderson and his co-founders to meet with the outstate group. From the start, Lovander insisted that the money belonged to the local chapter for local projects, and he wasn’t about to turn it over.

“He kept saying because he is who he is, ‘why should we give you the money,’” said Anderson as they revisited those days at Lovander’s place.

Anderson said that by the time he drove to Eagle Lake, he was already resigned to the concept that local chapters would control their own funds.

Yet to hear Anderson’s description of the event, there was some drama to it.

With a grin, he said Lovander wore a pair of aviator glasses in the dark of a large “circus tent,” and had his “lieutenants” strategically located on the other side of the table when the “three little city guys” stepped under the canopy.

Local decision-making authority was key to everything for the outstate members, said Lovander.

ADVERTISEMENT

“If it hadn’t gone that way, no way could I have kept my crew together,” he said.

From there, the message of Pheasants Forever spread like prairie fire, but only because there were many who carried it to wherever they could. The original founders gave up their free time to visit communities across the state and chat on radio shows and visit with newspaper reporters.

There was a lot of learning ahead, too. The founders shared jokes about some of their early-day missteps.

Some of the first Pheasants Forever banquets featured roast pheasant, which chefs always served up tough as shoe leather. At one event, the first raffle ticket winner received a chainsaw for a prize, and the emcee pointed out that at least one lucky son-of-a-gun would be able to eat his bird.

More by Tom Cherveny:
A New London woman and former park naturalist has opened a conversation and launched a petition on changing the name of Sibley State Park due to Henry Hastings Sibley's treatment of the Dakota
Two self-described "thorns" in the sides of decision makers made it their quest to protect a small patch of Showy Lady's Slippers from construction for the Highway 23 "Gap" project. Thanks to their efforts, the plants were transplanted.
Madison Eklund has the winds under her wings now after battling the unrelenting current of a flooded Minnesota River and the severe weather that kept her off the water for days at a time. She aims to be the first solo kayaker to retrace the Fort Snelling to York Factory route made famous by Eric Sevareid and Walter Port and those who followed.
Our late spring is a challenge for migrating birds and frustrating for us, but it's not without its drama.
Attitudes are changing as more anglers are discovering that so-called "rough fish" are fun to catch and make excellent table fare. Corey Geving, founder of roughfish.org, is helping lead the way.
Phone calls and tips from friends and strangers lead Granite Falls couple on journeys around the state and other states for the sake of that perfect picture.
Minnesota's Walk-In Access program has grown since its start in the southwestern corner of the state to include much more of the state. Once thought of primarily for pheasant hunting, lands in the program offer opportunities for a wide range of game.
Jeff Drexler built his first fish house in 1997 at the request of a dealer selling the backyard storage sheds he was manufacturing at the time. Montevideo-based Ice Castle now produces 50 different models of its popular RV/fish wheelhouses, and demand continues to grow.
Sibley State Park and the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center will be the site for "Volksmarches" hosted by the Northstar Trail Travelers. The club invites anyone who enjoys walking and making friends to join them for this opportunity to discover the beauty we enjoy in our own backyard.
State parks are enjoying a repeat of last year's surge in numbers. Activities, programming and visitors are back and on the upswing at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center as well. The heat wave has made a dip in the water the No. 1 attraction at parks in the region.

That emcee might just have been Bill Farmer, a humorist who started coming to Pheasants Forever banquets dressed in drag. Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, Gov. Rudy Perpich and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Alexander are among the many dignitaries who attended the events in support of the young organization.

Anderson said his original motivation to organize what he termed a “pheasant club” had everything to do with the loss of habitat he was witnessing. Lovander said habitat was absolutely the motivation for him and his hunting pals as well. They were waterfowl hunters at heart, but knew the importance of upland habitat, they said.

Anderson said the tipping point that led him to write his column calling for action came during a visit with Commissioner Alexander.

Anderson lamented the loss of pheasant habitat and expressed his desire to see something done. Alexander told the outdoors writer that he believed there would always be vestiges of pheasants in the state, but as a sporting bird in Minnesota, pheasants were done.

“Pissed me off,” said Anderson, adding that his frustration over the comment led him to act. Alexander got on board too: He was among the featured speakers at the first Pheasants Forever gathering in Willmar in 1983.

The early work of Pheasants Forever was rewarded with the formation of local chapters, legislation creating the pheasant stamp for hunting in Minnesota to generate revenue for habitat, and advocating for and helping enroll acres in the Conservation Reserve Program.

As for Kandiyohi County, it remains a leader in Pheasants Forever. Since its start, the chapter has raised more than $7 million.

Forty years after they had joined under a tent along the shores of Eagle Lake north of Willmar, surviving founders of Pheasants Forever returned to Doug Lovander's place on the lake to reminisce about how the urban and rural groups agreed to the local control model of the organization. Joining for a group photo are, back row from left: Larry Broberg, Doug Lovander, Dennis Anderson, Gary Hockstra and Will Smith. In front from left: Bruce Bjornberg, Neil Tacawa, Marybeth Block, Kevin Fladeboe, and Lyndon Hansen.
Forty years after they had gathered under a tent along the shores of Eagle Lake north of Willmar, surviving founders of Pheasants Forever returned to Doug Lovander's place on the lake to reminisce about how the urban and rural groups agreed to the local control model of the organization. Joining for a group photo are, back row from left: Larry Broberg, Doug Lovander, Dennis Anderson, Gary Hockstra and Will Smith. In front from left: Bruce Bjornberg, Neil Tacawa, Marybeth Block, Kevin Fladeboe and Lyndon Hansen.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
What to read next
Some of us will end up having a very mild and pleasant fall weekend while other parts of the Northern Plains will deal with cooler afternoons and periods of showers.
Breann Zietz of Minot said she was hunting in a ground blind when a curious cow moose walked in from downwind for a closer look.
All regions are still below average for the number of duck hunting wetlands observed, but the northwest (up 102%) and north central (up 51%) showed the greatest improvement from last year.
Ample wild food in the woods for sows should mean healthy cubs born this winter.