Habitat & Conservation  |  12/13/2021

Habitat and Heritage to the Max


By Tom CarpenterPhotos by Dave Nelson

Gus and Ann Maxfield plus Mower County PF make mission happen in southern Minnesota

In an exciting annual program recognizing conservationists nationwide who champion upland habitat work in their local community, the winning team for this year’s Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award hails from Mower County, Minnesota.
Congratulations to landowners Gus and Ann Maxfield, and Mower County Pheasants Forever Chapter #670! Podein’s Power Equipment is the local Polaris dealer.

Gus and Ann Maxfield receive the Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award from Mike Nelson of Mower County PF at the chapter banquet.

“We work hard on habitat, for sure,” says Jamie Surdy, president of Mower County PF. “But we focus many resources on hunting heritage, outdoor opportunities and other good causes.”
Annual activities include hunts for disabled veterans and youth, and a fundraising “Hunt for a Cure” in partnership with Hormel Inc., the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, with proceeds going to cancer research to the tune of $25,000 total over the last handful of years.
“Land deals are challenging here,” says Surdy, due to the extremely high price for the very rich and productive farmland in the area. “Habitat work is in our charter, but we focus hard on doing what else we can for the mission too. There is a lot of focus on youth, a big part of that is supporting our local high school shooting team financially.”
“Gus and Ann Maxfield have been integral to our clays shooting team here in Austin,” he says. Gus Maxfield volunteers as head coach. “The sport and participation have really taken off, and much of that is due to all Gus and Ann do to help.”
“I just love to mentor kids,” says Maxfield. “We shoot trap, skeet, sporting clays, 5-stand. I encourage our kids to shoot every style. My approach is, we’re here to teach you how to shoot a shotgun and get better at it. You only do that with a variety of shooting.”
Heritage is just part of the winning equation in Mower County. Enter habitat.
“Gus’s land is on the Cedar River” says Mike Nelson of Mower County PF. “The area is prone to flooding. The ponds Gus has built retain water and release it slowly, keeping millions of gallons of potential floodwater back and away from the city of Austin.” The ponds serve as one component of a diverse wildlife habitat haven.
“A hundred-plus acres of farmland became a flood retention area to help the City of Austin,” says Nelson. “This land is wonderful wildlife habitat 99 percent of the time. Gus also has 120 acres of CRP where he has established food plots, ponds and an area with wildflowers for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.”

The Maxfields’ land along the Cedar River in southern Minnesota is a wildlife-friendly mosaic of prairie and pollinator plantings, wetlands, nesting cover, food plots and water retention ponds.

Gus Maxfield tells an insightful story about acquiring the land.
“I always wanted to own those acres,” he says. “One day in late summer many years ago after a big rain system, I was out there driving. A truck was stopped along the road. The landowner was looking at the land. The corn tassels were barely above the floodwater. I stopped and said, ‘When do you want to sell this?” He said, ‘Right now.’”
“All the property is enrolled in RIM (Reinvest in Minnesota),” says Maxfield, so that it would be permanently protected. “Part of that enrollment included creation of the dikes, wetlands and ponds in the area that was just a cornfield.”
One example of Maxfield’s creative management: He uses goats to eliminate invasive buckthorn from woodlands. He even became an affiliate locally for the “Goats on the Go” service. Maxfield did not want to use herbicides or chemicals. “Forty goats inside a one-acre electric fence enclosure for a week will take that buckthorn out pretty good,” he laughs. “If you keep at that buckthorn like that in a rotation, it just gives up.”
Mower County PF and Gus Maxfield make a great team.
“One traditional fundraiser at the annual Mower County Banquet is a 10-person hunt out on Gus’s land,” says Nelson. “Ann makes pheasant pot pie, the hunting is great … it’s in demand, and it is, we will say, a substantial fundraiser for our chapter.”
Maxfield shares his land generously with local youth. “Gus is just such a big supporter of the kids,” says Nelson. “He sponsors a fall youth duck hunt. Kids get to hunt pheasants at this place. It’s pretty special that others get to enjoy those acres.”
Gus Maxfield partners with his wife Ann in life. She is a big PF supporter as well.
“Ann and I have been together 48 years now,” he says. “She wasn’t a hunter or fisher, but she has embraced the outdoors. We hunt all over together: big game, upland birds, waterfowl. It’s a great partnership for everything we do.” Others always seem to be in that equation.

Maxfield is the kind of PF supporter — both with finances and with time — that makes Pheasants Forever the force it is. At the core of that force is wildlife habitat on the landscape. The youth he has helped and the land he has conserved will be Gus Maxfield’s legacy.
“It was exciting being a part of the planning and work for what this land and habitat has become” says Maxfield. “Now I am helping manage what it is, and assuring what it will remain.”
Each year, PF & QF chapters across the country are asked to identify a person who has championed habitat work in the local community. This could be a landowner, chapter volunteer, local sponsor or partner, you name it. This person is then honored (ideally at the chapter’s banquet) for their work. Chapters nationwide get a chance to show appreciation for upland habitat where things really happen: locally. From all local winners, one national award winner is chosen. The winning chapter receives a Polaris Sportsman ATV to continue their local habitat work. Look for 2022’s Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award program entry information for your chapter this coming spring.

Tom Carpenter is editor at Pheasants Forever.

This story originally appeared in the 2022 Winter 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 Pheasants Forever member today!