Waterfowl association survives

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Waterfowl association survives

Postby Trois_beaux_canards » Sun Jul 24, 2005 8:24 am

Waterfowl association survives
Doug Smith, Star Tribune
July 24, 2005 DOUG0724

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association, one of the state's major conservation groups, has been revived from the brink of collapse by an 11th-hour infusion of donations and determination.

Delegates at a state board meeting Saturday in Farmington voted unanimously to keep the organization alive after learning the group had exceeded its goal of raising $150,000 to keep the nonprofit group afloat.

The MWA was founded in 1967 to help preserve and restore wetlands and other wildlife habitat. It is credited with launching the state duck stamp, which has raised millions of dollars for wildlife habitat.

It also co-sponsors the annual state waterfowl symposium and helped organize an April 2 rally at the Capitol to raise awareness of wetlands issues.

The financially struggling group was poised to fold next month.

"I'm overjoyed," said Jim Cox, president of the group. "We can pay off our debt, have some operating capital and get this organization back to where it once was."

And, Cox said, the MWA can immediately jumpstart efforts to improve the state's waterfowl habitat thanks to a $60,000 grant it received last week from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation of Rochester. The group's chapters can apply for that money for local wildlife habitat projects.

"As of today, we're back in business," said Cox, who was re-elected Saturday to a one-year term.

The delegates also agreed to restructure the group and pattern it after Pheasants Forever, meaning local chapters will keep the money they raise at banquets or other fundraisers; the state office will receive only membership fees.

Hunters and conservationists voted with their wallets to save the association. The state has more waterfowl hunters -- about 100,000 -- than any other, and many believe a local waterfowl group fills a niche.

But early last week things looked bleak. The group had received about $110,000 in pledges in a last-ditch campaign launched just last month.

That likely would not have been enough to prevent collapse.

However, the association received more than $40,000 in pledges by the end of the week, an infusion that saved it.

"Some who already pledged once pledged more money," Cox said.

Even other groups helped: Pheasants Forever chapters in Stearns and Wright counties contributed, and the Montgomery Sportsmen's Club kicked in $12,000 for the campaign and another $8,000 for MWA's Woodie Camp. The week-long camp at Fergus Falls teaches about 40 youths annually about waterfowl hunting and conservation.

The MWA is set to survive another year, first collecting on the pledges and then working to boost membership.

Membership, once 7,000 to 8,000, has fallen to about 4,500 during the financial crisis that came to a head in 2003 when the state Legislative Auditor issued a report saying the group improperly administered some state grants and used questionable accounting practices.

Since then, the group has paid off debts, restructured and downsized. But the financial turmoil caused members and entire chapters to leave.

"We need to get to 7,000 to 8,000 members to make this organization work," Cox said. "If we can get to that level, we can be a significant player in the state."

To underscore the lean times, the group's executive director, Les Jones, who was hired in January, left in a cost-saving move.

"It was a mutual agreement," said Jones, 60, who had been working for half-salary.

"They can't afford an executive director right now."

He will continue to advise the group on business matters and remains on the planning committee for the Ducks, Wetlands and Clean Water Rally group, which is planning another rally next year.

"They've done a heck of a job [raising money]," Jones said. "If they can get their members supportive, I think they've got an excellent opportunity to not only stay in business but turn this around"
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