DNR’s Madelia wildlife research station helps shape habitat, management

For decades, the Madelia wildlife research station has armed wildlife professionals with the information they need to best manage pheasants, deer and other species, especially those in the farmland portion of the state.

One of three Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) research stations, the Madelia facility is officially known as the Farmland Wildlife Populations and Research Center. The five researchers at this station focus largely on issues that relate to the two-thirds of the state that is farm country. The researchers also serve the broader interests of Minnesotans and wildlife professionals around the nation by providing technical assistance and developing techniques to monitor wildlife populations and manage critical wildlife habitat.

“Our focus is improving wildlife management and the policy that affects wildlife,” said Marrett Grund, research group leader. “Each research project must have a direct impact on wildlife or wildlife habitat, or we don’t do it.”

One of the team’s most publicized annual projects is the August roadside wildlife counts. Data from this survey are used to predict pheasant numbers each year and develop a pheasant hunting prospect map.

Grund said that although pheasants get most of the publicity from the annual counts, much more is gathered than pheasant information. Data from the roadside counts also give reliable population trend information for gray partridge, cottontail rabbit, white-tailed jackrabbit, mourning dove and white-tailed deer as well as status information for fox, sandhill crane, skunk and squirrel.

A primary role of the Madelia team is to monitor the status of deer populations throughout Minnesota and provide advice to wildlife managers about the upcoming year’s hunting regulations. This is done through several field surveys and mathematically analyzing deer harvest and reproductive data. These results provide direction for establishing antlerless permit numbers for hunters throughout Minnesota.

“Deer impact all Minnesotans, whether they hunt or not,” Grund said. “They are popular with hunters and wildlife viewers but also cause serious economic issues for farmers, foresters and public safety issues for drivers. They are the most sought after game species in Minnesota – so proper management is critical.”

While research topics may be varied, the quality of the research is not. “The number one goal of our research is to have high quality, publishable data,” Grund said.

He explained that once research is completed, the information is submitted to a peer review process to verify the quality of the data. Once passing review, the study is published in professional journals.

“We are committed to help our DNR staff and the public better understand our wildlife populations and the habitats they live in,” Grund said.

Examples of research published in scientific journals by Madelia office staff recently include:

  • Association of ring-necked pheasant, gray partridge, and meadowlark abundance to Conservation Reserve Program grasslands.
  • Bullet fragmentation and lead deposition in white-tailed deer.
  • Winter survival of wild turkey hens in central Minnesota.
  • Development and evaluation of an accounting model for estimating deer population sizes.
  • Hunter perceptions and acceptance of alternative deer management regulations.
  • Survival analysis and computer simulations of lethal and contraceptive management strategies for urban deer.

“The essence of our research is to help those in management and policy positions make informed decisions,” said Grund. “Ultimately, that means increasing conservation efficiency and helping to advance public policy.”

Grund said pheasant habitat and population research conducted and coordinated by Dr. Al Berner decades ago is an example of how a Minnesota-based research project can have national implications. Berner’s research and that of his collaborators concluded that the federal government’s annual farmland set aside programs that followed the end of the Soil Bank conservation era in 1964 were not providing pheasant population benefits. In fact, the opposite was true. This was happening because pheasants would nest in the cover crop that farmers were required to plant and then those nests would be destroyed when landowners were required to destroy the cover crop.

This research – evaluating the wildlife implications of annual set aside programs – became a powerful tool for Pheasants Forever and other conservation interests. They used it to push the U.S. Congress to enact longer U.S. Department of Agriculture set aside enrollments. That happened. The Conservation Reserve Program was created in 1985 and with it came 10- and 15-year set aside enrollments.

The Farmland Wildlife Populations and Research Center is located southwest of Madelia.  Those interested in visiting should take State Highway 60 to County Road 109, go one-half mile south and watch for signs. The facility is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.