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Dennis Anderson: Revitalized MWA to aid ducks
Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
March 11, 2005 ANDY0311

That the downward spiral of ducks and duck habitat in this state has been mirrored, until recently, by the descent of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association would seem to indicate the fate of the two were tied. Not so, says Les Jones, the MWA's new executive director, who, with a strengthened board of directors, is plotting the group's rebirth.

Jones, on the job for not quite two months, has his work cut out for him. When he took the reins of MWA, the group had debts of more than $100,000, membership had been sliding and the group's focus had been lost.

Also there was the issue of stabilizing the organization's day-to-day finances while hoping, and planning, for better days ahead.

Jones, 59, might seem an unlikely candidate to lead the state's only Minnesota-based duck group. As a hunter, he prefers grouse and pheasants as quarry over ducks. And he's never before worked for a non-profit. Instead, he finished a 17-year career in 1994 with Federal Cartridge of Anoka, leaving as vice-president of sales and marketing.

Later, he was president of the company that manufactures Redfield rifle scopes in Denver. Until recently, he had been self-employed.

"I told the board when I signed on that we would need a year at least to turn things around, and that the first six or eight months would be critical," Jones said.

With about 4,900 members, down from a peak of more than twice that, MWA's descent in support among Minnesota hunters has ended, Jones believes. His goal -- reachable, he said -- is to enroll at least 10 percent of Minnesota waterfowlers, for a membership of between 10,000 and 12,000.

To achieve that mark, Jones and the MWA board, led by Jim Cox, need not only the support of current members, but their patience.

With cash short and expenses high, available funds are being used not the way everyone affiliated with the group would like -- to rebuild lost Minnesota duck habitat -- but to establish a strong financial footing on which to rebuild the organization.

Interestingly, MWA's current leaders have looked to the past for its revitalization.

Founded in the early 1970s out of frustration over the loss of Minnesota duck habitat, particularly shallow lakes, the MWA was a bit of a rebel. That image has mellowed over time, but perhaps not to the group's advantage, Jones said.

"I think that in addition to eventually getting back into the habitat business, we need to re-establish our original efforts as a reformer group," he said.

Believing MWA members "need a cause" to rally around, the group will push for dedicated funding for conservation in Minnesota and the development of a commission system to lead the Department of Natural Resources.

As Jones and Brad Nylin, MWA director of chapter development, travel Minnesota reassuring current chapters and trying to establish new ones, they're straightforward about the group's challenges.

"We think we're a great benefit to the state, and we make that case," Jones said. "But time is of the essence. We need members and we need their financial support. If we can get through the next year or so, we'll be on our way."

Cox said the MWA's board isn't waiting for a white knight to relieve the group of its financial burdens. "We have to rebuild it from the ground up and fix it right," he said.

Toward that end, the board has met in various places in the state, hoping to connect with members past and present.

"There's been a long period in which they've been lied to," Cox said. "We're straight with them about how things are. But we also tell them we need their help.

"It's sort of a Catch-22. We tell them if they don't help us now, we won't be around to help ducks in the future."

Cox and Jones said MWA is hoping to enroll members at the Ducks, Wetlands and Clean Water Rally April 2 on the Capitol Mall and at the Northwest Sportshow at the Minneapolis Convention Center, March 29-April 3.

At the Sportshow, MWA members will again help kids build wood duck houses free of charge, with materials provided by various suppliers.

The MWA also will again co-sponsor with the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the state's annual spring Waterfowl Symposium, held this year April 8-10 in St. Cloud (the public is welcome; fee is $60, including the Saturday night banquet; for information phone 763 553 2977).

Additionally, this summer the MWA again will send 48 kids free of charge to "Woody Camp" near Fergus Falls, with tuition secured through fund-raisers.

"As I said, this organization provides a great benefit to the state," Jones said.

To ensure that benefit is fully realized, state waterfowlers and others who love ducks and wetlands should come to the aid of a group that for more than three decades has helped Minnesota.

At $30 a pop for an annual membership (www.mnwaterfowlassociation.org) , the price of support is a bargain.

Dennis Anderson is at [email protected].
 
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