New WMA helps form backbone of public land access

(Released May 8, 2014)

Here, a first-time hunter heads out looking for adventure. A wildlife watcher carrying binoculars gets a close-up view of migration stops. A longtime hunter checks for deer sign.

This is a wildlife management area, and in Minnesota these lands provide vital recreation and habitat roles, from the Roseau Lake Wildlife Management Area in the north to the Minnesota WMA in the south.

Now, future generations will be able to enjoy 303 more acres of public land thanks in large part to a man named Mel Roehrl, a founding and current member of the Stearns County Pheasants Forever chapter.

Roehrl gets the distinction of having a WMA named after him. On Saturday, May 3, he and a crowd of people watched as the now-public stretch of grassland and wetland was dedicated as the Mel Roehrl State Wildlife Management Area, to be managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Mel Roehrl at dedication ceremony.

Mel Roehrl at dedication ceremony.

“This new WMA shows just how important it is to have local groups like Pheasants Forever chapters and others involved in setting aside land for wildlife habitat and public use,” said Fred Bengtson, DNR area wildlife manager in Sauk Rapids. “Mel helped speak for this land decades ago, and has since 1983 helped continue important conservation work through his local Pheasants Forever chapter.”

The new WMA is located in rural Stearns County southwest of Melrose, with the North Fork of the Crow River on one edge of the area. It consists of a mixture of grasslands and wetlands and is home to a variety of wildlife including pheasants, ducks and white-tailed deer.

“We’re grateful for the leadership of Mel Roehrl and all the folks at Pheasants Forever and other groups who have helped open up access to more quality public land,” Bengtson said. “The tireless effort of folks like these is what helps make Minnesota a great place to hunt.”

Minnesota has 1,440 wildlife management areas constituting 1.3 million acres of habitat.

Local groups also donate to acquire WMAs, and the Mel Roehrl WMA was purchased through a program called Minnesota Build a Wildlife Area. That program is a partnership between a number of groups, and has since 2003 purchased more 3,000 areas for use as public land.

More information is available at

“When it comes to conservation in central Minnesota, Mel is a household name,” said Eran Sandquist, Pheasants Forever’s regional representative for northern Minnesota. “The chapter he helped start is recognized as one of the most productive in the nation and one of only two Pheasants Forever chapters to have spent more than $4 million on the organization’s wildlife habitat mission.”

The Mel Roehrl WMA was purchased with help from:

  • The North American Wetland Conservation Act.
  • Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund.
  • Reinvest in Minnesota Critical Habitat Match.
  • Pheasants Forever, Build a Wildlife Area Fund and chapters in Jackson, Lyon, Mower, Todd and Stearns counties, and the Tri-County Pheasants Forever and South Central Minnesota Pheasants Forever.
  • The Buckentine family.
  • Minnesota Deer Hunters Association Central Minnesota chapter, MDHA Hides for Habitat Fund and Habitat Committee.
  • Padua Conservation Club.
  • Green Grove Rod and Gun Club.
  • Steve Thompson Memorial.

To find a nearby WMA, visit the DNR’s Recreation Compass at
which links up to hunting, habitat and other details on each WMA. For general information on wildlife management areas.