Thursday, March 5, 2015

Back from cancer, Kevin Lines will battle decline in pheasants

Longtime conservationist and cancer survivor Kevin Lines knows a thing or two about beating the odds. Doctors told him in 2012 that he needed a bone marrow transplant to survive.

Now he's back to work taking on a project that aims to reverse the trend of declining pheasant populations in Minnesota. Lines started Feb. 23 as pheasant action plan coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, where he'll oversee development of a four-year plan to increase and enhance habitat and hunting opportunities in Minnesota's pheasant range. 

Lines, a lifelong hunter and angler who grew up in Milaca and now resides in North Branch, is no stranger to conservation work. He spent decades with the DNR and more recently, with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR).

"I really appreciate this opportunity from DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr to get back into the conservation game," Lines said. "We're really suffering from a loss of habitat, primarily grasslands. Despite the scope of this problem, this new plan will help us make measurable progress over four years."

The action plan to be released this spring will be based on recommendations from the first Pheasant Summit convened Dec. 13 in Marshall. The event brought together Gov. Mark Dayton and 300-plus hunters, farmers and conservation experts, including those from Pheasants Forever and other organizations. They generated potential solutions to the plight of pheasants, whose numbers have declined significantly in recent years and are an indicator of landscape health.

Leading that effort is a steering committee of representatives from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, BWSR, the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Farmers Union, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, and the business group Hunting Works for Minnesota.

The committee is charged with providing overarching guidance as recommendations from the Pheasant Summit are developed and implemented. Landwehr will be convening the first meeting on Friday, March 6.

"Accelerating our loss of grassland is the recent expiration of hundreds of thousands of acres in Minnesota that had been enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which retired marginal cropland from production," Lines said. "In our way forward, we need to preserve the grasslands we have, expand private land conservation programs, prepare for the next farm bill, acquire more public land, accelerate habitat work on state and federally owned wildlife lands, as well as educate people about the importance of grassland."

He noted that pheasant populations have shown a clear correlation to the amount of land in the CRP program. 

Lines can build upon success from his 38 years of conservation work. He was the DNR's wildlife lake designation coordinator and subsequently supervised the north metro wildlife area. For a decade, he served as the agency's farmland wildlife program consultant, giving him intimate knowledge of wildlife habitat in the pheasant range.

In 2000, he started as conservation easement section manager with BWSR, and was its main representative to the DNR during the development of the agency's long-term pheasant, duck and prairie plans. Lines' leadership at BWSR helped protect more than 100,000 acres through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, thousands more acres through easements in the Reinvest in Minnesota program, and helped leverage millions in federal funds for wetland restoration. 

"Because 95 percent of the property in the pheasant range is privately owned, we must work closely with landowners, as well as maximize the habitat we have on existing wildlife management areas," Lines said. "It's implementing what we heard at the Pheasant Summit."

Learn more about the Pheasant Summit at www.mndnr.gov/pheasantsummit.


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