Hunting & Heritage  |  10/13/2020

Minnesota’s WIA Program Through the Eyes of a Biologist

This Rooster Road Trip guest blog is written by Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist Megan Howell

Before I dreamed of being a biologist I was a hunter. My hunting background fuels my desire to create public land opportunities for people like myself who may not have the opportunity to enjoy their own property.  As biologists we are constantly looking for ways to put conservation on the ground in a manner that benefits wildlife and humans alike. In my case, public land opportunities are number one.  Unfortunately, there are no “conservation money trees” to pull funds from to create and maintain public lands.  In my opinion, this is why the Walk-In Access (WIA) program is the star of the show in Minnesota as far as tools in the toolbox go. This tool, much like a shotgun without a human, is useless without the person there to pull the trigger. That’s where the landowners come in.

In my experience, most of the landowners that enroll in this program are not after the incentives they get for enrolling, they are seeking an opportunity to benefit wildlife while allowing the public the opportunity to enjoy their land. Willing landowners are the key to success for the WIA program.

I am constantly reminded that I work for an organization that I align with personally and professionally, but what really makes me proud to be a part of Pheasants Forever is that we don’t just wait for opportunities to come up. We seek them out much like we seek out the thrill of a hunt. Biologists are like the bird dogs of the conservation world. We are constantly seeking out opportunities to hear the gun go off so we can make the retrieve. My first year as a biologist Pheasants Forever helped secure funding to provide opportunities on Walk-In Access areas that benefitted landowners, wildlife, and the public alike.  The funding provided cost-share for management practices such as prescribed fire, woody vegetation removal, and enhancement seedings.  Without this management opportunity many landowners wouldn’t have the means to fund the cost of quality habitat and without quality habitat we know we have less wildlife opportunity.

Conservation, much like hunting, relies on numerous things to work and come together to be successful. Every time I drive up to the first WIA site I assisted a landowner with and see the vivacious 160-acre stand of native grasses and forbs where brome and unwanted volunteer trees once dominated, I am reminded how lucky we are. The WIA Program creates a much-needed addition to publicly accessible land and it wouldn’t be possible without willing and eager landowners, an organization with passion, and numerous entities with a desire to create more publicly accessible hunting opportunities. I urge any of you reading to check out and support the walk-in areas you have access to. Each one has a story and is waiting to be a part of yours.

Megan is a Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist working in Murray County in Southwest Minnesota. Her job entails working with CRP, remnant and reconstructed prairie restoration and protection projects, overseeing walk-in access program, habitat enhancement projects on public and private land, and outreach and education. An avid outdoorswoman and dog lover, she has two Braque du Bourbonnais, two weenie dogs and loves hunting, fishing, foraging, gardening, and anything that allows her to be self-reliant and self-sustainable.