Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award Winner Announced

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Russ Parker Wins National Award, Cedar Creek PF Wins Polaris Sportsman ATV

By Tom Carpenter

In what has become an exciting annual program recognizing conservationists nationwide who champion upland habitat work in their local community, the winning team for 2020's Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award hail from Monroe County, Iowa.

Russ Parker lives on a farm dedicated to upland wildlife habitat, near Lake Miami. The Cedar Creek Chapter of Pheasants Forever (number 70, no less) hails from nearby Albia. Their relationship runs deep, and local wildlife — pheasants, quail, butterflies, bees, whitetails, turkeys, songbirds, you name it — are the real winners.

“Much of my farm — which is highly erodible land — was in CRP when I acquired the acreage,” says Parker. “That was several signups ago. We’ve been busy improving the habitat ever since. It was all brome at first. That didn’t hold much wildlife value. My first projects were actually with Quail Forever.”

In all, there are now over 290 acres of prairie grass and pollinator habitat on the Parker farm. Brushy old fencerows abound (quail heaven here at the northern edge of the birds’ range). Food plots are planted. Edges are feathered. Fingers of oak and hickory timber occupy the draws. “We have pheasants, but they really pile in when winter comes,” says Parker.

Parker and the Cedar Creek Chapter collaborate on many projects, including controlled burns. And Cedar Creek PF is a mission-delivering powerhouse beyond their championing of local upland habitat with landowners like Parker. They do a lot of work on local county-owned land as well, including burns, shrub plantings, food plot planting and edge feathering.

 Above: Russ Parker (right) receives the Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award for 2020 from Jim Nelson, president of Cedar Creek PF of Monroe County, Iowa.

“We probably have more quail than pheasants in this county,” laughs Jim Nelson, chapter president for Cedar Creek PF. “But we’re in it for all wildlife, and for the community. We’re not a huge chapter at 70 or so members, but we keep busy.” That’s an understatement.

“We do a lot of controlled burning for folks around the area,” says Nelson. “At $35 an acre, that’s good cash for the chapter to put back into projects and the community.” The chapter holds a well-attended banquet the first Saturday in February as well, and just squeaked in this year’s event before Covid hit.

“Another big habitat activity for us is providing free food plot seed to local habitat cooperators: corn, beans sorghum and sunflowers,” says Nelson. “We have planted trees and shrubs for songbirds around our local community sports complex.”

In addition to all their habitat work, the chapter puts dollars to work in the local community and beyond. Cedar Creek PF annually contributes $2,500 toward supporting the salary of their local PF/QF Farm Bill biologist. They donate $1,000 to the PF/QF Legislative Action Fund (LAF) each year. And a $500 scholarship is awarded annually to a Monroe County high school senior heading toward higher learning and intending to pursue a degree related to conservation, agriculture or wildlife.

Getting young people out shooting … and hence interested in the outdoors to become tomorrow’s conservationists … is also a big focus of Cedar Creek PF. Utilizing grants from the Iowa DNR, the chapter provided labor to help build a local trap and skeet range. And the chapter financially supports and helps coach the Albia High School Trap and Skeet Team.

With landowners like Russ Parker and active chapters like Cedar Creek PF in the community, Monroe County, Iowa is a pretty good place to live.
 
 Above: Cedar Creek PF is very active sponsoring local clay target teams.

Cedar Creek PF has big plans for the Polaris Sportsman ATV they have won. “We’re going to use it as a fundraiser,” says Nelson. “Those significant dollars will then be put to good use around the county for habitat conservation and helping our local youth.”

Russ Parker has plans too: To keep on doing everything he can for wildlife on his farm. PF/QF, and the Cedar Creek Chapter in particular, is an ongoing part pf those plans.

“I have over 40 acres of CP25 pollinator habitat right now,” says Parker as an example. “That’s so rewarding. The blooms were just stunning this year. It’s great for gamebirds. There were clouds of monarchs during the late summer and early fall migration. It was remarkable.”
 

How the Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award Program Works

Each year, PF and 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. This way, chapters nationwide have a chance to show appreciation for upland habit where things really happen: locally.

Then from all local winners, one national award winner s chosen. The winning chapter receives a Polaris Sportsman ATV to continue their local habitat work.

Be thinking about worthy recipients in your local community, and look for 2021’s Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award program entry information for your chapter this spring.
 

Tom Carpenter is editor at Pheasants Forever

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 Issue of both the Quail Forever Journal and the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to receive more great upland content, become a Pheasants Forever member today!