Habitat & Conservation  |  12/01/2022

Finding the Silver Lining

Above: Escape Coulee, an upland acquisition project led by the Chinook Chapter of Pheasants Forever in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

The chapter determined they wanted more permanency for their efforts, so they switched to land purchase

By Ken Bailey, Pheasants Forever Canada Board of Directors

By all accounts the Chinook chapter in Medicine Hat, Alberta, has taken Mark Twain’s infamous quote to heart: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”

With just 140 members, Chinook is not a large chapter. But over the last 15 years they have made a huge impact on pheasant habitat in southeastern Alberta. At one time, says Habitat Chairman Len Hanson, the chapter focused their habitat program on planting shelter belts. They discovered, however, that over time landowners or other influences would change and some shelterbelts would disappear.

In response, the chapter determined they wanted more permanency for their efforts, so they switched to land purchase. Since that decision, in 2004, the chapter has invested $438,000 on the purchase of 13 properties, encompassing over 6,500 prime acres of habitat suited to pheasants, sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge. Better yet, all these properties are open to foot-access year-round by the public.

The secret to their success, says Hanson, is a core group of committed volunteers and the recognition of the value of partnerships

“By partnering with other conservation organizations we’ve been able to magnify our impact on the ground,” Hanson says. “Our most common partner is the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA), but we have also joined forces with the Alberta Fish and Game Association, Ducks Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and other Pheasants Forever chapters. Most often, the ACA takes on the long-term property tax liability, while we focus on property clean-up, the establishment of food plots or shelter belts where warranted, and ongoing monitoring.”

In a somewhat unique project for them, the chapter is currently awaiting a permit that would allow them to access water from a creek running through a property they purchased in 2017. If approved, they will redirect water through a series of wetlands before returning it to the creek. Flooding of these marshes will invigorate cattail growth, providing critical winter thermal cover for pheasants while concurrently removing impurities in the watershed.

The Chinook chapter raises funds through an annual banquet — in March 2022, they hosted 280 people and raised nearly $35,000 — as well as through gun raffles, casino proceeds and various grant program

“We leave no stone unturned when it comes to seeking money to support our habitat vision,” says Hanson. “We have a pretty healthy war chest and are continually on the lookout for other properties with significant habitat values that are at risk of being lost or degraded. We may be a small chapter, but no challenge is too great when you have dedicated volunteers and willing partners.”

By Ken Bailey a Pheasants Forever Canada Board of Directors

This story originally appeared in the 2022 Fall Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a member today!