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For the birds: Minnesota’s Carlos Avery Game Refuge played a role in reviving several game species

The Minnesota Department of Conservation (MDC, later the Department of Natural Resources) bought 8478.73 acres of land from the Crex Carpet Company in 1933 for a wildlife refuge.

historical photo of gate in front of buildings
Entrance gate to the Carlos Avery Game Refuge, ca. 1936.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

In the mid-twentieth century, Anoka County’s Carlos Avery Game Farm helped to build populations of dwindling game bird species, such as the bob white quail, chukar partridge, and ring-necked pheasant. A National Register-listed historic district since 1991, it is now part of the nearly 25,000-acre Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and has become a reserve for deer, waterfowl, and other woodland animals and birds.

historical photo of carlos avery
Carlos Avery, executive agent for the Minnesota Game and Fish Commission, 1907. Photograph by Petri & Svenson.
The Minnesota Department of Conservation (MDC, later the Department of Natural Resources) bought 8478.73 acres of land from the Crex Carpet Company in 1933 for a wildlife refuge. The land, which the company had used to grow a type of wire grass used in rug manufacturing, covered portions of Anoka and Chisago counties and included swamp land, three lakes, and woods. It was named the Carlos Avery Game Refuge in honor of Minnesota’s first commissioner of conservation.

The superintendent of the MDC, Frank Blair, saw the land as the perfect location for a game-bird breeding program. He worked with Walter D. MacLieth, an architect with the Division of Game and Fish, to design a modern facility for raising bob white quail and chukar partridge within the refuge.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) agreed to build it. Construction began in January 1936 for the first structures on the property, a barn and a storage building. A house for the gamekeeper was completed later that summer. More buildings followed in 1937, including a heating plant, power plant, garage, incubation building, and superintendent’s house. MacLieth designed each building in a Colonial style, with white-painted clapboard siding and green-stained wood shingles. Later additions included several brood shelters, a pump house, and an iron flagpole with a limestone base.

Governor Elmer Benson dedicated the Carlos Avery Game Farm on October 16, 1938. The WPA covered 85 percent of the $40,887 cost of construction.

In 1937, the game farm began to raise 700 chukar eggs and 200 pairs of bob white quail as part of a bird-species propagation program. The first year’s yield resulted in 2,879 quail, including 1000 kept for breeding, and 469 partridges. By 1940, the yield had increased to 22,664 quail and 19,449 partridges.

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The MDC stopped raising partridges at the farm in 1947, but the bobwhite quail program continued until 1955. A total of 150,000 quail were released into the wild before that program ended.

A shortage of pheasants prompted the creation of a new program in 1947 to produce ring-necked pheasants. Farmers, members of sportsmen’s clubs, and others received day-old pheasant chicks to raise until they reached six weeks of age and could be released. The farm produced up to 100,000 pheasants each year, though many chicks did not survive.

The MDC began to rebuild Minnesota’s Canada goose population in the late 1950s. In the 1970s, the focus of wildlife management shifted from propagation of species to improving habitat and providing a food supply. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) phased out the goose program in the early 1970s and the pheasant program in 1981.

On August 9, 1991, the National Park Service (NPS) added the Carlos Avery Game Farm Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places. The listing recognized the unique architecture of the eleven remaining structures. The NPS recognized its significance as “one of the largest and best equipped game farms in the nation” when it opened in 1937 and its value as an early example of wildlife management in Minnesota.

Approximately every other year, the DNR adds carefully reviewed land to the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area. It allows birdwatching, hunting, angling, and trapping (by special permit). In 2018, the WMA exceeded 24,600 acres. 4,500 acres are designated as a wildlife sanctuary, with no hunting or public access allowed. Staff work to maintain buildings, roads, and grounds, carefully review potential land purchases, and carry out controlled burns. They grow crops of corn, rye, and root vegetables to feed deer and other woodland animals, birds, and waterfowl.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.