GRAND FORKS — Barring a miracle of Lazarus-like proportions, the Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation appears to be dead, the victim of changing times and an aging membership.
If an obituary of the club was to be written, it would include a lengthy list of accomplishments on behalf of wildlife and habitat.
Formed in 1947, the Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation was 70 years old.
“It’s in the process of being suspended, is sort of the operating term,” said Erik Fritzell, president of the Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation. “Basically, we haven’t been able to generate any interest in it.”
Fritzell said the club’s 25 to 30 paid members recently received a letter indicating the North Dakota Wildlife Federation would take over the local group’s assets, at least temporarily, with hopes someone would step forward to take up the cause.
“Whether it’s the Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation or it’s called something else is irrelevant,” Fritzell said. “We would provide our assets and let the North Dakota Wildlife Federation be the shepherd of that for a period, so that’s in progress.”
Wayne Beyer of Wahpeton, N.D., president of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation, confirmed the group’s executive board Wednesday, April 5, agreed to accept the Grand Forks club’s financial assets of about $9,000 and hold them in trust for three years.
“They’ll be sending us a letter, we’ll sign it and send them a check,” Fritzell said. “And then, if somebody wants to step forward and there’s some enthusiasm for something out there, there’ll be some money for a three-year period to help get that started.”
Fritzell said the wildlife club also is in the process of donating eight acres of land it owns near Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge to the state Game and Fish Department.
Beyer said he hopes another wildlife club can take up the reins in Grand Forks. If not, the North Dakota Wildlife Federation will take over the club’s financial assets for conservation work across the state, he said.
“(I’m) really hoping that another wildlife club gets going in Grand Forks,” Beyer said in an email. “It is highly desirable to have active sportsmen across the state.”
The Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation’s problems and challenges aren’t unique. Conservation-minded people today are more focused on annual banquets than local-driven wildlife club projects that require both time and money.
As with many local wildlife clubs, you’d be hard-pressed to find a member of the Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation younger than 50.
“This is happening throughout the state and throughout the country,” Fritzell said. “Every affiliate of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation to some degree or another has its problems. Some are doing better than others, but it’s an aging population, and young people certainly don’t seem to be interested.
“We’ve tried to have meetings, and nobody shows up. People will support it with their money and membership to some degree, but people don’t have the time.”
Hunting and nature enthusiasts don’t have to go very far to enjoy the Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation’s efforts on behalf of wildlife and habitat in northeast North Dakota.
Perhaps most significant was its efforts to establish Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge in the 1970s. As I reported back in 2000, the wildlife club worked with state and federal agencies to get the refuge started.
The result of that effort is a national wildlife refuge that provides both wildlife and flood-control benefits.
The federation also worked with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department to re-establish prairie chickens west of Manvel. Sending kids to wildlife camps, erecting wood duck boxes, contributing to causes such as Sportsmen Against Hunger and helping with events such as Hooked on Fishing at Ryan Pond also stand out among the club’s notable ventures.
“There’s a lot of things the organization has done but it’s like, we’re all tired, and when you don’t have any sort of membership to boost things up, you lose your enthusiasm,” Fritzell said.
Fritzell said anyone with the time and ambition to get the club back on track — regardless of its name — can call him at (701) 610-3985 or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s been around a long time, and it’s done some very good things,” Fritzell said. “Certainly the Kellys Slough Project was a major effort. We could get together a pretty impressive list of activities.”
May those efforts never be forgotten.