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Last year about 10 acres of corn were planted in the Killen waterfowl refuge on the north end of Marsh Lake to diversify the menu offered to waterfowl. The area is kept dry through the growing season to allow a diverse mix of annual grasses to thrive and produce a bumper crop of seeds for hungry waterfowl when the area is flooded during the fall migration period. Submitted photos

Managed sanctuary being looked at as part of strategy to improve waterfowl hunting

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outdoors Willmar,Minnesota 56201 http://www.wctrib.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/1130/20100123012010killensanctuary5.jpg?itok=8jkACvl5
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Managed sanctuary being looked at as part of strategy to improve waterfowl hunting
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

APPLETON -- Waterfowl enthusiasts in the state were all ears when the news was announced at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource's Stakeholders Reunion on Jan. 9 in Brooklyn Center.

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Mark Holsten, commissioner of the DNR, told the attendees that the agency will work toward developing what are known as 'moist soil management impoundments' as a major part of its strategy to improve waterfowl hunting in the state.

Now, all eyes are on the northern tip of Marsh Lake near Appleton.

It's where one of the state's few moist soil management impoundments can be found.

It's also where the skies of autumn are again filling with the sites of waterfowl.

As many as 10,000-15,000 mallards have been counted in the 110-acre impoundment during the fall, and that's just a sampling. Divers like redheads and ringnecks are just as attracted to the site as are the dabblers like mallards and teal.

"It's all about the timing,'' said Dave Trauba, manager of the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Refuge and among those who played a role in developing one of the state's first moist soil management impoundments.

Trauba and his staff make sure the impoundment holds water when the ducks are winging it south.

The impoundment is dry through the summer growing season, when a wide variety of annual grasses thrive in the lowland soils. Foxtail, millet, smart weed and other, heavy-seeded grasses provide a calorie-packed buffet for migrating waterfowl come autumn.

Last year the DNR added to the menu as well, planting about 10 acres of corn in the impoundment.

Come October, the wildlife area staff flips a switch and a pump begins flooding the impoundment with 100 million gallons of water from nearby Marsh Lake. It takes about 10 days to fill.

The impoundment is divided into two separate cells, said Trauba, and the water depth ranges from as little as six inches to five feet deep. The mix of annual plants and range of water depth provides the diversity desired to attract a variety of ducks.

A number of southern states have long relied on moist soil impoundments to attract migrating waterfowl, said Trauba. He was among those proposing its development here, just over five years ago. The owner of the oft-flood property had been farming it, but had enough and put it up for sale.

The DNR acquired it, and would normally have planted it to perennial grasses for waterfowl nesting and pheasant habitat.

But Trauba was thinking of the waterfowl migration needs, and proposed a moist soil complex. Jon Schneider, state director with Ducks Unlimited, was familiar with their use in southern states. The organization and DNR formed a partnership.

The area is now known as the Jim and Karen Killen site. The tribute to the well-known, Owatonna based wildlife artist and his wife recognizes their many contributions and fundraising efforts on behalf of conservation in the state.

A benefit held as part of the tribute helped raise funds towards the site's development.

It cost over $345,000 to develop the area, according to information from Ducks Unlimited. It required building about two miles of dikes to hold the water. An approximate one-half mile long pipe runs into Marsh Lake from the pump located in the center of the impoundment.

The site is a sanctuary for waterfowl, but the hunting ban has not triggered any complaints, said Trauba. Hunters on nearby Marsh Lake credit this waterfowl magnet with bringing birds their way.

Trauba said it's apparent that some of the migrating waterfowl are resting at the Big Stone Wildlife Refuge and using the impoundment for feeding.

It's also obvious that the impoundment is being spotted by high-flying waterfowl who know better than to pass up a good meal. He's watched waves of them tornado down to its waters.

He considers the impoundment a learning experience, and is the first to admit it is not without its faults. Along with the costs of building and operating, there are challenges. Muskrat have played havoc with the dikes by tunneling into them. Rock riprap may be needed to armor the sides, he said.

During its first year, the former farm field sprouted more cockle burr than grass. It took an herbicide knockdown to get things on course, he said.

Trauba would like to see more of these complexes developed in the state.

Their roles as temporary sanctuary from hunting pressure in the fall is important too, he noted. The DNR has worked hard to find shallow lakes that could be designated as protected areas, but it runs into intense resistance on any water where a hunting history exists.

In this case, a former farm field is now the sanctuary and no one has lost out on their favorite waterfowl hunting spot. And at the same time, many waterfowl hunters in the nearby area are finding better opportunities again at their long-familiar sites.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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