Fergus Falls Wetland Management District shines the spotlight on two amazing partners
The City of Fergus Falls and Douglas County resident Dan Gahlon

We at the Fergus Falls Wetland Management District recently honored the City of Fergus Falls and Dan Gahlon with our third annual Conservation Partner of the Year Award.

The award celebrates individual and organizational efforts in promoting and providing conservation through effective partnership efforts with the district.  Recipients must have made significant and visible contributions to conservation within the district’s five county jurisdiction in western Minnesota (Otter Tail, Wilken, Wadena, Grant, and Douglas).

“The City of Fergus Falls continues to make extraordinary contributions to conservation over the course of their 25+-year partnership with the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center,” stated Joanne Ryan, visitor services manager.  More recently under mayor Ben Schierer and the city council, the city has committed annually for the last five years to help save the imperiled monarch butterfly via the Mayors Monarch Pledge through the National Wildlife Federation.  In so doing, the city …

  • removed milkweed from its noxious weed list in city ordinances and changed weed ordinances to allow native prairie plants within city limits in yards and parks.  To encourage landowners to plant native species, the city also removed the permit fee. 
  • Restored a wetland at DeLagoon Park and added numerous native plantings at locations such as city hall, Godel Park, Pebble Lake Golf Course, Adams Park/Grotto Lake, the public library, Noyes Park, Ferber Park and others, the city aims to increase biodiversity, support soil, water, and pollinator conservation, beautify the city, and reduce the city’s use of pesticides and mowing.  The Prairie Wetlands Learning Center greenhouse provided thousands of plants to some of these sites along with volunteer and employee time in planting and advising.  United Prairie Foundation has also partnered with the city in this effort.
  • Became a Pollinator Friendly City through Pollinate Minnesota. 
  • Launched the Prairie City USA initiative with Wildlife Forever and as such is designated as the nation’s first Prairie City USA. Collaborated with Wildlife Forever on the publication of a Prairie City USA guidebook for other cities to learn about the program and consider participating. 
  • Partnered with others to provide monarch butterfly bike racks and a monarch mural on the Mill Street bridge near city hall over the river walk. 

The city of Fergus Falls also participated in two Governors Deer Opener events at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center, spotlights the center as an outdoor recreation site through Fergus Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, and educates residents about buckthorn and rain gardens. 

“The city made the existence of the visitor center, dormitory, and education wing possible in concert with legislative funding from the state of Minnesota.  They did this twice, representing outstanding support from numerous mayors since at least 1997,” Ryan said.  “We are grateful for the way this conservation-oriented community continues to embrace land stewardship, improving the quality of life for wildlife, residents and visitors.”

Dan Gahlon owns 186 acres of land on the north shore of Lake Christina in Douglas County.  “Dan is an unwavering partner in wetlands and waterfowl conservation.  I can always count on a monthly phone call from Dan wondering what I'm up to and ways he can help not only his land but others.  He is a strong advocate for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, referring countless other landowners to our easement program, thus protecting more land.  You can't ask for a better partner,” stated Shawn Papon, biologist for the district’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

Gahlon has been a long-time member and a volunteer of the Christina Hunt Club, drawn to the shores of the lake by the historic flights of canvasbacks and other waterfowl.  “He took his passion for waterfowl many steps forward starting in 2013,” explained Papon.  Gahlon purchased 73 acres of adjacent farm land that came for sale and proceeded to protect it with a Ducks Unlimited conservation easement conservation easement
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or qualified conservation organization that restricts the type and amount of development that may take place on a property in the future. Conservation easements aim to protect habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife by limiting residential, industrial or commercial development. Contracts may prohibit alteration of the natural topography, conversion of native grassland to cropland, drainage of wetland and establishment of game farms. Easement land remains in private ownership.

Learn more about conservation easement

“He worked with the Service and Ducks Unlimited to restore all the wetlands and grasslands on this piece, to include some fantastic pollinator habitat.  He didn't stop there and proceeded to purchase another 113 acres adjacent to this parcel in 2015 given short notice it was for sale.” 

He enrolled 100 acres into the Service's grassland easement program shortly thereafter, protecting the land in perpetuity.  The Service, Gahlon, and many partners including the Minnesota Land Trust, Outdoor Heritage Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (via the Monarch fund), and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Working Lands program helped pay for many habitat improvements on this land. 

Work included the restoration of 12 prairie pothole wetlands, removal of invasive trees on more than 40 acres, prescribed fire, and seeding of more than 60 acres of high diversity prairie.  Gahlon’s easement allows grazing, and he plans to start a rotational grazing project this year to keep the land working while also providing outstanding waterfowl habitat. 

We are proud to work with such dedicated partners as the city of Fergus Falls and Dan Gahlon.  Thank you for making such a huge and sustained positive difference for wildlife and people!

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Habitat conservation
Habitat restoration