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Friends group helps manage natural resources

Erickson WPA is just one piece of property in the area that the Friends of the St. Croix Wetlands Management District group plans to volunteer at. Mike Reiter is the group's secretary is pictured with his grandson Zach at the WPA.

Apparently even wetlands need a friend.

A new local conservation group, Friends of the St. Croix Wetlands Management District, formed earlier this year to help restore, protect, enhance and expand the land and natural resources managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's St. Croix Wetland Management District.

The eight-county district is charged with managing and purchasing waterfowl production areas in the region. Land purchases within the district are funded through federal duck stamp sales.

The Friends group plans to help with educational, scientific data gathering and recreational activities offered across the district.

"We've been thinking about forming a group like this for a long time," said Mike Reiter, the group's secretary. "This is one of the most exciting things I've ever been involved with."

As news gets out to area residents about the new Friends group, Reiter said he hopes others get excited about the effort and they will get involved.

"When people see what we're doing, I'm sure there will be good support," he said.

The Friends organization is open to not only sportsmen, but everyone who loves nature. Bird watchers, hikers, photographers and anglers are all welcome to get involved, Reiter said.

"We will offer so much for a wide variety of members," he added.

The Friends group has already established some pretty aggressive goals for itself.

"We have lots of ideas and lots of things already coming up," Reiter explained.

They hope to develop a website soon, conduct a local photo contest, work with Boy Scouts on buckthorn removal projects and work with landowners to encourage them to sign up for the Conservation Reserve Program to aid in waterfowl production.

Plans also call for the printing of maps, a vegetation and wildlife identification field guide and brochures for educational purposes.

To monitor how conservation efforts are faring in these parts, Reiter said, the group also will participate in waterfowl counts across the region.

The members will also conduct water quality monitoring of local lakes and complete a vegetation and wildlife inventory of area WPAs, among other projects.

"We want the members to be very involved in the activities of the group," Reiter said. "They need to interact with the projects and not just pay their membership and sit back."

Friends President Brian Headlee said the group will try to help out on whatever projects the wetland district deems appropriate.

"We're complementing them, we're not leading the charge," he said.

Headlee said the volunteer group will also work hard to develop partnerships with landowners and other conservation organizations to further promote projects targeted at local natural resources.

Additionally, the Friends will host a spring canoe tour of area WPAs for elected officials, in an effort to educate decision makers and gain their possible support.

"We want to work with state and local governments to help tie things together," Headlee said. "The more cooperation we can generate, the better it will be."

Tom Kerr, manager for the St. Croix Wetland Management District, said he's excited that a local Friends group is underway.

"The Friends group will be an important part of working with the community to address some of our natural resource goals of restoring and protecting the prairie, wetlands and oak savanna in the district," he said.

The wetland district oversees 7,600 acres of public lands, Reiter noted, and they need the help of volunteers to expand their success.

The Friends organization has filed the necessary nonprofit paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service. Grant funding from The Conservation Fund, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation helped get the organization off the ground.

Future funding will be from memberships to the Friends of the St. Croix Wetlands Management District. Memberships are just $10, or $20 for a membership and duck stamp (a $15 value).

"Duck stamp sales are very important," Reiter said. "The duck stamps allow us to buy more land for WPAs."

The Friends group is governed by a seven-member Board of Directors, including President Headlee, Vice President Bob Goodlad, Secretary Reiter and Treasurer Warren Irle.

The Friends will meet for their next monthly gathering at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13, at the New Richmond U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office, 1764 95th St.

On Sept. 15, the organization is planning a "Friends and Neighbors Night Out," at Oak Ridge Waterfowl Production Area just east of Star Prairie. The event, which runs from 3-7 p.m., will be sponsored by Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District and the public is invited.