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BRAD DOKKEN: Hides for Habitat turns 30

Dana Klos, habitat director for the Thief River Falls Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said the Hides for Habitat program has been perhaps the most successful initiative in MDHA's history. The Thief River Falls chapter uses its share of the proceeds to buy seed for soybean, corn and sunflower food plots, which it the donates to the public. The MDHA program marks its 30th anniversary this year.1 / 2
Al Newton (left), president of the Thief River Falls Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Associaiton and Jerome Kotta, chapter treasurer, stand next to a display pomoting the MDHA's Hides for Habitat program, which marks its 30th anniversary this fall.2 / 2

Dana Klos calls it the most successful program in the history of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

He might be right.

The MDHA's Hides for Habitat program marks its 30th anniversary this fall. According to MDHA, hunters since 1985 have donated more than 820,000 deer hides to the program, raising nearly $5 million for deer and other wildlife habitat across the state.

Call it the ultimate recycling program.

Klos, of Thief River Falls, is habitat director for the Thief River Falls MDHA chapter and an active promoter of youth hunting, trapping and other outdoor education programs. With more than 300 members, the Thief River Falls MDHA chapter has embraced the Hides for Habitat program.

The philosophy, Klos says, is simple: Successful hunters donate the hides from deer they shoot, placing them in drop boxes set up in communities across the state. MDHA chapters then collect the hides and prepare them for sale.

Hides this fall will be worth $10.30, Klos said; chapters keep half the proceeds, while the state organization gets the other half, leveraging the funds for special projects across the state.

"In all my years of doing things for wildlife and with the public, this is the program that probably makes me smile the most because it's been so successful," said Klos, who attended the 1985 MDHA corporate board meeting in Grand Rapids, Minn., that launched the program. "More people have taken advantage of this simple concept—the ultimate in recycling."

In Thief River Falls, Klos said the chapter has collected, prepped and sold as many as 6,000 deer hides in a single hunting season and last year gathered 2,500 hides—the most of any MDHA chapter in the state.

That's quite a contrast from the first year of the program, Klos said, when the chapter collected only 33 hides.

The Min-Dak Border Chapter of the MDHA based in East Grand Forks and the Roseau River MDHA chapter in Roseau, Minn., also have been active participants in the program.

"The whole thing got started by the vision of a few people in Grand Rapids," Klos said. "Habitat work is one of the four walls of the organization—education, legislation, habitat and research—and they were trying to figure out a way to raise funds.

"They came up with this idea through a brainstorming session, and one thing led to another."

In the early years, Klos said, efforts focused on public land, planting food plots, improving trails and coordinating other habitat projects. The focus in Thief River Falls began to change after the winter of 1996-97, a year when widespread deep snow and extreme cold had a severe impact on deer populations, Klos said.

Instead, he said, the Thief River Falls chapter began using its share of the proceeds to purchase seed for food plots on private land, donating bags of seed to MDHA members and other landowners looking to provide habitat.

"The concept behind it was that more food plots could be put in with the limited amount of funds we had and benefit more wildlife than what we were doing putting in food plots on state land," Klos said. "It's actually become the greatest program you can believe.

"Providing seed for individual food plots on private land is a win-win because the deer aren't just on that property," he added. "The deer move from neighbor to neighbor and area to area."

This past spring, Klos said, the chapter gave away more than 1,200 bags of Roundup-ready soybean, corn and sunflower seed. The chapter contracts with a company in Missouri to buy surplus seed, he said, and each bag will plant 3 acres to 5 acres depending on the crop.

Each bag, which weighs 40 to 50 pounds depending on the seed, is worth $190, Klos said. No wonder, then, that people stood in line for hours to get the seed.

"We sat down and documented over 640 food plots that we know of that have been planted in northwest Minnesota because of the bags of seed we have given out," Klos said. "You're actually seeing something done because of the value of that deer hide."

About 30 chapter members get together Wednesday evenings after deer season to salt and stack the hides they collect for the buyer who comes sometime in January.

It's a big job, Klos admits, but considering the benefits, time well spent.

"It is a very practical way of providing and recycling the value of that hide," Klos said. "It's a win-win, it's fabulous. I don't know how else to describe it."

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Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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