Waterfowl 365 at Fergus Falls
By Bill O'Brian
More than 800,000 people visit waterfowl production areas annually. Across
the Prairie Pothole Region, WPAs are epicenters of outdoor recreationfew
more so than western Minnesotas Townsend WPA each summer.
There, every August since 1989, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association,
the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center and Fergus Falls Wetland Management District
have cohosted a weeklong sleepover gathering known as Woodie Camp.
Woodie Camp is designed to help foster the next generation of Minnesota conservationists
by teaching 50 youth (ages 1315) the ins and outs of nature journaling,
outdoor photography, waterfowl identification, shooting skills, waterfowl
calling, wild game preparation, boat safety, gun care and other aspects
of being an enthusiastic, responsible waterfowler.
Jessica Dowler, a wildlife biologist at Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge
in northern Minnesota, is a Woodie Camp alumna. She attended as a 13yearold
in 1994, when the camp was about half its current size.
I give a lot of credit to Woodie Camp for where I am today, she
says. The shining moment for me was that I won top gun. It was pretty
cool to beat out 19 high school boys in the shooting.
The intricacies of shooting and gun safety are a big part of Woodie Camp, but
so are the fundamentals of conservation. The week features lessons about wetland
ecology, waterfowl ecology, prairie ecology, aquatic plants, wetland
invertebrates and duck banding.
Last year volunteer instructor Andy Thill coined a phrase that defines Woodie Camps
mindset waterfowl 365.
Campers Noah Simpson, above, and Jenna Sypnieski, below, release
ducks during a banding lesson at Woodie Camp, a weeklong sleepover gathering
held each August at Fergus Falls Wetland Management Districts Prairie Wetlands
Credit: Teressa Schlieman/Minnesota Waterfowl Association
March 2, 2013
We hope that waterfowl hunting is the gateway into a yearlong and lifetime
journey into nature, says Matt Conner, a visitor services manager
at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center. During the course of the week
campers are taught the how to of waterfowl hunting, but the passion
of why to shared by the instructors is what makes this a truly special
Woodie Camp, which costs about $30,000 to conduct annually, is free
of charge to the campers, thanks to contributions from Minnesota Waterfowl Association
members, partners and others. But each year there are about 20 more camp
applicants than spots available. So, attendees are selected based on a whyIwanttogotoWoodieCamp
The 35 to 40 instructors who volunteer each year are vital to the camps success
and low cost, says waterfowl association executive director Brad Nylin.
Some are there to teach one class one day, he says. Many
are there the entire week and help with everything.
The main role of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to host the camp
at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Centers dorm facilities, says Conner.
The Minnesota Waterfowl Association arrives with the camp planned and executes
the week with military precision.
While precise conservation lessons and messages are hallmarks of Woodie Camp,
so is fun. The week includes a competitive team tournament in which skills are
tested, scavenger hunts, orienteering, decoy painting, campfires,
conservation quizzes and even a wild game cooking contest a la the Food Networks
Iron Chef series.
Still, waterfowl hunting is at the camps core, says visitor services
manager Conner, who is an instructor each summer.
Hunting is a passion, he says. Like any passion, it
cant always be scientifically explained. When asked Why do you hunt?
some hunters are compelled to speak about population management or economic impacts
of hunting. But what I hope Woodie Campers learn is it is okay to be honest
with themselves and others as to why they are hunters. When the alarm goes off
at 3:30 a.m., and it is sleeting outside with 20 mph winds,
we dont think to ourselves, I need to do my part for species management
and economic stimulus. We think to ourselves, The ducks will
be flying today!
Refuge Update March/April 2013
March 2, 2013