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At age 25, Pheasants Forever is celebrating big this weekend

Up to 25,000 pheasant enthusiasts will flock to St. Paul this weekend for a three-day convention celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pheasants Forever.

And yes, I do know that a group of pheasants is not a flock. Various folks call the grouping everything from a nest to a bouquet, or even a nide or nye.

Exhibits, seminars and other activities will keep these hunters and environmentalists busy as they celebrate the group's success in improving pheasant habitat: More than 370,000 projects have improved 5 million acres of land, to the benefit of the birds and other wildlife, the group says.

Outdoors writer Anderson launched the group
The organization was founded in St. Paul in 1982, when Pioneer Press outdoors writer Dennis Anderson wrote a column urging action to improve the pheasants' predicament.

"I'd gone to college in Morris and hunted pheasants there, in west central Minnesota, which is traditionally the state's largest pheasant hunting area," said Anderson, now the outdoors writer at the Star Tribune.

After college, when he would return to the area to hunt, Anderson noticed an appreciable loss of habitat over a span of nine or 10 years.

"Then the winter of '81-82 was really bad, and there were estimates that we could lose as many as half the pheasants that winter. Using that as a backdrop, I wrote a column about the plight of the birds," he said.

In that "drumbeating" column, he urged others to action and received 100 letters from like-minded hunters. They met, Anderson appointed a board of directors and the organization was formed.

They picked their name "on the fly," Anderson said. An artist at the paper came up with the logo, and the organization was launched.

Their first banquet, in April 1983, drew 800 people and raised $20,000. Gov. Rudy Perpich spoke. The proceeds helped pay the salary of the first staff member, Jeff Finden, who had been the Pioneer Press director of national advertising.

Group now has 115,000 members
The first local chapter was formed in Kandiyohi County. Today, the group boasts 115,000 members in every state and Canada. A big advantage of the organization is that money collected by each local group stays in that area for local projects, Anderson said.

Working with other groups and government agencies, the local chapters buy land to set aside for wildlife. More often, they pay landowners to provide winter cover for the birds, nesting cover in the spring and food plots that help the birds survive harsh winters.

Habitat remains an ongoing concern, particularly with the increase in corn prices because of ethanol demand. Farmers are less likely to leave open fields when they can get $5 a bushel for corn.

But Anderson notes that there's much promise in what some believe will be the next generation of ethanol-generating crops, grasses that are more efficient in fuel product and provide better habitat for wildlife.

Anderson no longer serves on the group's board but plans to take his sons to the convention this weekend, finding time between games in their busy basketball schedule.

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