An early mother’s day primer: Mom’s efforts made possible his outdoor career choice

 

Ed Picht working the Minnesota River

Ed Picht working the Minnesota River

MONTEVIDEO — It was his mother who put in the effort that made the difference, her blunders included.

Ed Picht was 14-years-old and already an avid duck hunter.  The sun was yet to rise when his mother drove across the field and dropped him off at the slough.  The first, early light revealed ducks starting to stir and lift from the water.

And that’s when mom began blasting the automobile horn BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, scattering the ducks. Her son was fuming. “I’m just mad mom. What is going on,’’ said Picht, describing the incident from his youth.

“There were ducks flying and I wanted to get your attention,’’ he said his mother answered.

“I had a lot of good times growing up,’’ laughed Picht. His mother, Barbara Picht-Roles,  may not have been much of a hunter, but her willingness to support his love for the outdoors had a lot to do with his career today, he explained.

For seven years now, Ed Picht has served as a Minnesota Conservation Officer based in Montevideo. He credits his mother’s support and outdoor adventures with his older brother Wesley with fostering his appreciation for the outdoor life. Picht spoke April 23 during the annual meeting of the Friends for the Upper Sioux Agency State Park.

He’s been the lead investigator for a number of much- publicized fish and game law cases, the most recent a deer poaching case in Lac qui Parle County. The Minnesota Chapter of The Wildlife Society awarded him its law enforcement award for dedication and service to the protection of Minnesota’s resources in 2010.

Barbara Picht-Roles

Barbara Picht-Roles

His interest in law enforcement came early. When he was in kindergarten, he drew a picture of himself as sheriff of Stevens County.

The Chokio-native started his law enforcement career in Douglas County, where he worked as a part time sheriff’s deputy under then-Sheriff Bill Ingebrigtsen.  He worked law enforcement in Glenwood too before he took his first full time position in Anoka County.

That led to marriage and a sheriff’s deputy position with Wright County for six years.  He worked the night shift and for four of those years as the K9 officer. The night time duties often exposed him to the worst. “Ninety-nine percent of the people I deal with from 10 o’clock at night to 6 in the morning are not your class A citizens,’’ said Picht.

That’s just the opposite of his role today as a conservation officer. He likes to point out that 99 percent of those he meets in the field are good people.

It was while he was serving as the night-time deputy in Anoka that Picht said he realized he wanted to combine his love for the outdoors with his law enforcement interests, and applied to become a Conservation Officer.

Ely, Madison, Montevideo, and Minnetonka were the openings available. His wife Tammy, who today is the owner and instructor at Dance Haven in Montevideo, initially suggested Minnetonka.

Ed Picht and catfish seized from violators.

Ed Picht and catfish seized from violators.

 

 

 

His answer:  “I’m not going to be a game warden in the city. I can’t do it.  It defeats the purpose really. I need to get back out there to the real world.’’

Today, he and CO partner Craig Miska, Ortonville, are responsible for much of the Upper Minnesota River area.

Conservation officers are responsible for much larger geographic areas than was the case years ago. And,  they have more laws to enforce. Along with fish and game laws, they are responsible for enforcing snowmobile and off-highway vehicle laws, wetland, invasive species and other environmental regulations. Picht and Officer Neil Henriksen of Benson once pulled the duty of checking on whether horseback riders in state parks carried state trails passes. “Walking up to horses is not like walking up to snowmobiles,’’ he laughed.

Picht said that behavior cues from those he meets in the field can often tip him off that things are not right and some investigation is needed. Other times, he walks right in on the violations.

On one such occasion he came across a pair of men, each with two fishing lines in the Minnesota River. They had a cooler packed with 36 catfish and a 10-foot long stringer dangling another 14. One of the men happened to own a restaurant in Missouri. He attempted to excuse their transgressions by telling Picht that he’d heard “nobody cares about catfish up here.’’

“Not true,’’ answered the officer.

Working the Fargo flood.

Working the Fargo flood.

People care about their deer too.  Tips from people about suspected poaching activities lead to many of the investigations and ultimately, arrests. He said that people who shoot deer outside of legal hours is probably a more frequent violation in this area than is baiting.

Until Minnesota lengthened its firearm season, another problem was “running and gunning’’ or people who chased and shot deer from their vehicles.

One time he was waiting in the darkness when a shot rang out a full two hours before legal shooting time. A buck went down. Picht interviewed 20 people within a one-mile radius of the area where the shot was heard in hopes of making the case.

He couldn’t. The suspect denied everything and had cleaned out his vehicle thoroughly before meeting with the officer.

Some violators don’t get the chance to cover things up. One day Picht was patrolling during the deer firearm season when the crackle and spatter of radio chatter came over the monitor in his pickup truck. “Station one to central command’’ went the talk as central command relayed the whereabouts of a deer. “It was like they were playing war with this deer,’’ said Picht.

He followed the signal to a farm yard. There, atop the roof of a barn overlooking the valley he spotted an orange-clad radio operator, the apparent “central command.”  Nearby were others in orange, carrying radios along with their shotguns.  “They got in a little trouble for doing that,’’ he said.

In many other cases, taking enforcement action requires loads of investigatory work.  Picht emphasized that he does not bring a case forward until he is confident it is airtight.

Conservation officers also routinely provide assistance to other law enforcement agencies. He’s helped officers wrestle unruly suspects, responded to accident and fire scenes, and gone along with officers to homes where he’s witnessed children living in appalling conditions.

Last winter he took his airboat to Lake Benton and devoted a week to helping search for the bodies of two who had gone through the ice.  Anguished family members watched the searchers from the shore.

Difficult assignments all, but Picht said the rewards of being a conservation officer more than make up for the heart-wrenching duties it can also bring. For him, the biggest reward is always the good people he meets in the field.

“You know, 99 percent of my contacts are really just a conversation,’’ he said.

In every encounter, he always remembers how much his mother and others influenced him as a youth. He knows how much influence a conservation officer can have on people’s lives, especially when it comes to young people. “We can never take that for granted,’’ he said. “We need to really portray a positive experience for people in our day-to-day contacts.’’

Airboat training.

Airboat training.

Wild turkey hunters respond to call for help in Kandiyohi County

Wild turkey

Wild turkey

A dozen, successful wild turkey hunters have brought their birds to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s wildlife office in Sibley State Park since the state put out a call for hunters to voluntarily submit their birds to be tested for the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Cory Netland, wildlife office supervisor, said he sent the first batch of samples in for testing April 27, and is awaiting the results. The hunters all reported that the birds had been active and appeared healthy when harvested.  They had no reason to suspect their birds might be infected by the H5N2 virus.

In fact, Netland said the hunters told him they brought the birds in for testing out of a “spirit of cooperation.” They appreciate the seriousness of the avian influenza epidemic and its implications for turkey producers in the area. They want to help researchers as they attempt to determine how the virus is being spread to commercial turkey flocks.

Starting April 20, the state has asked successful wild turkey hunters in Kandiyohi, Pope, Meeker, Swift and Stearns counties to help out by bringing their birds in for testing. A simple swab test of the bird’s trachea is all that is required.

The DNR wildlife offices in Sauk Rapids, New London, Glenwood, Carlos Avery and Little Falls are performing the tests. The New London office in Sibley State Park has seen the most birds to date. One hunter made the trip from McLeod County to New London.

Cory Netland

Cory Netland

The wild turkey testing is only a small part of the work that Netland and co-worker Jeff Miller are performing as part of the research into this disease. Roughly one-half of the state’s confirmed cases in commercial flocks are found in the area the two wildlife workers normally cover.

Along with DNR technicians from Madelia, they have been collecting waterfowl fecal matter from around the region. They have collected over 600 samples of waterfowl fecal matter in Kandiyohi and Meeker Counties. All has tested negative.

The job is more complicated than it might sound, as the fecal matter must be collected within 24-hours. The workers rake areas clean where they know waterfowl congregate and return later to collect the samples. The Ripley Golf Course in Litchfield and a variety of wetlands are among the targeted sites.

On the recommendation of others, they initially tried baiting waterfowl on the edges of wetlands but had little success with this approach.

Josh Kavanagh was among the successful hunters who brought a bird in for testing.

Josh Kavanagh was among the successful hunters who brought a bird in for testing.

The workers have also been receiving and helping with the testing of dead raptors and waterfowl that are found by citizens. A bald eagle and sharp-shinned hawk are among the birds that were found. To date, all the raptors and waterfowl have tested negative.

Netland said that in terms of wild waterfowl and raptors, this spring appears very normal. Every year they receive reports of some ill, injured or dead waterfowl and raptors being found by citizens. They have not seen a significant uptick in these reports, although he suspects more people are being watchful and reporting things.

Warm hearts cheer them on as they paddle from Gulf to Arctic Ocean

Six friends comprising the Rediscover North America expedition are, from left: Adam Trigg, Luke Kimmes, Dan Flynn, Winchell Delano, Jarrad Moore, and John Keaveny.

Six friends comprising the Rediscover North America expedition are, from left: Adam Trigg, Luke Kimmes, Dan Flynn, Winchell Delano, Jarrad Moore, and John Keaveny.

GRANITE FALLS — Doug Jans looked out the back window of his house on Sunday evening and knew immediately that something unusual was going on.

Six paddlers in three canoes were fighting the rapids of the Minnesota River, slicing their paddles into the churning water faster than a TV-chef dicing onions, and struggling to make their way upstream.

“Most are going down the rapids,’’ said Jans of the paddlers he usually watches from his home on the Minnesota River just one block from the community’s downtown.

Moments later, Jans was inviting the six young men to pitch their tents in his back yard and enjoy warm showers.

And only a couple of hours later, Mayor Dave Smiglewski treated the same crew at Jimmy’s Pizza, only one block upstream.

It’s been that way since they began paddling in the Gulf of Mexico on January 2 to make their way up the Mississippi River.  The six men who comprise the “Rediscover North America” expedition cannot say enough about the hospitality they’ve encountered along the length of the Mississippi River and now, the Minnesota River.

Adam Trigg lifts a pack as they prepare to move on from their backyard campsite in Granite Falls on Monday.

Adam Trigg lifts a pack as they prepare to move on from their backyard campsite in Granite Falls on Monday.

Jans was on the mark when he suspected the unusual here:  On what was day 107, these paddlers were a little more than one-third of the way on a more than 5,200 mile, nine-month expedition to reach the Arctic Ocean in northwest Canada. They have the Red River of the North, Lake Winnipeg, the Churchill River, and Great Slave Lake among other destinations yet to go.

Strong currents and winds, water that froze the instant it splashed on them, and a snowfall that basically shut down a Missouri town the moment they arrived have been just some of the adversities they’ve faced.

Yes, they’ve had their moments, said Adam Trigg. That’s where the hospitality comes into play and revives their morale. “Every time we are kind of down, we meet some people who are super psyched up about the trip,’’ said Trigg.

He is one of four St. Cloud natives comprising the team. Daniel Flynn, Winchell Delano, and John Keaveny are all graduates of St. Cloud Cathedral. They are joined by two Iowa natives: Luke Kimmes and Jarrad Moore.

Their ages are in the upper 20’s to 30. All of them have years of wilderness experience, ranging from rock climbing to lengthy paddling trips in the arctic. Five of the crew worked together at Second Nature, a wilderness retreat in Utah.

Delano mapped out much of the route. He once joined paddlers on a 2,600-mile canoe trip to cover Canada from west to east.

The others also like to point out that until recently, Delano was the only crew member who knew that their trip ahead includes a 12-mile portage connecting the Churchill and Clearwater River systems in Canada.

“You are going to some of the wildest of the wild,’’ said Tom Kalahar of Olivia, who met up with the group during their stop. He is an uncle to expedition member John Keaveny.

They are ready for what lies ahead. Talk at the pizza restaurant included discussions on how they plan to protect themselves against both bears and bugs.

What makes this trip different from others they’ve made is this: They are paddling portions of rivers with communities along the way, and encountering hospitality they had not expected, they said.

The idea for the route came over a few beverages almost two years ago.  They talked about going from the US-Canada border to the arctic. A friend of theirs had much such a trip once.  They wanted to better him.

Partly in jest, Trigg suggested they start in the Gulf of Mexico. “And Winchell (Delano) was like ‘dude, that is actually possible.’’’

Now they are on their way to proving it. Cold headwinds bore down on them as they departed Granite Falls on Monday morning with a goal of reaching Montevideo. They cover anywhere from 20 to 30 miles a day.

They’ve spent about $18,000 on the trip so far, with about $7,000 in expenses ahead. Donations from sponsors and contributors to a webpage have helped cover $14,000 of the expenses to date. Family members are serving as support teams.

They met family members during a lay-over and break they enjoyed more than a week ago in New Ulm. Family members will re-supply them at points along the way. The last re-supply near Great Slave Lake will require a one-way, 45-hour drive for the support team.

Their last leg will be to follow the Coppermine River to the Arctic. They hope to make it before freeze-up in October. They’ve arranged for a flight back to civilization once they reach their goal.

To learn about the team members and the expedition, and to track their progress, check out their webpage: http://www.rediscoverna.com/

Strong winds and temperatures in the 30's bore down on the paddlers as they launched their canoes on Monday above the dam on the Minnesota  River in Granite Falls.

Strong winds and temperatures in the 30’s bore down on the paddlers as they launched their canoes on Monday above the dam on the Minnesota River in Granite Falls.

 

Having seen the need, he’s made conservation his mission for 37 years

Tom Kalahar has retired from a 37-year career with the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District, but will continue to work on behalf of conservation in the area.

Tom Kalahar has retired from a 37-year career with the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District, but will continue to work on behalf of conservation in the area.

Hunting and fishing opportunities seemed endless in Otter Tail County, where Tom Kalahar grew up. The pursuit of game was a way of life in his family.

When he left home to start his own life he quickly came to discover just how natural resource-rich his home county was, and how abused and damaged landscapes elsewhere were.

“The real shock came when I drove to Olivia in the winter of 1979. The almost 100 percent conversion of the prairie and wetlands landscape left me profoundly stunned. I was moved to the realization that I personally had to do something to try and restore some of what we had lost. That has been my mission for the last 37 years,’’ Kalahar writes.

Kalahar was applauded this week on his retirement from his career with the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District. It’s where he’s worked with colleagues committed to that mission for those 37 years.

As those who came to celebrate his career made clear, he and the staff have done a great deal to make the county a better place. They’ve shown that room can be made for both conservation and the needs of modern agriculture on our landscape, and that our quality of life is better for it.

Kalahar offers a look at his own background and his work in conservation in his own words on the pages of the Outdoors page in the April 4 edition of the West Central Tribune. The accomplishment that he is most proud helps protect Renville County’s natural resource heritage for generations to come. There are over 17,000 acres enrolled in the Re-Invest in Minnesota Easement Program in the county.

Tom Kalahar led a tour of lawmakers and leaders in the state's conservation community to show how conservation and modern agriculture can share the landscape.

Tom Kalahar led a tour of lawmakers and leaders in the state’s conservation community to show how conservation and modern agriculture can share the landscape in Renville County.

The efforts for conservation and protecting our hunting and fishing heritage face major challenges. The demands on our land and water resources continue to grow. There are major economic and political forces to overcome no matter the conservation goal.

Yet today as always, the conservation success stories are made possible by those who have the passion to do what is right. Kalahar told those who joined to celebrate his retirement that you have to be crazy if you think you can change the system, so be crazy. He was among those who were told point blank in 1997 that they were crazy when they went to work on the perpetual easement program we now know as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Today there are 100,000 acres of CREP protected lands in the Minnesota River basin.

Kalahar promises that he will remain involved in the area’s conservation efforts. He’s not sure what form that will take, but is confident that work carried out by the county SWCD office remains in good hands.

 

Tom Kalahar (left) holds a sturgeon he caught on the Rainy River.

Tom Kalahar (left) holds a sturgeon he caught on the Rainy River.

Paddle Forward returning to Minnesota River in 2015

Natalie Warren and Ann Raiho discovered the Minnesota River in 2011 when they became the first women to recreate the 2,000 mile trip to Hudson Bay made famous in "Canoeing with the Cree.''

Natalie Warren and Ann Raiho discovered the Minnesota River in 2011 when they became the first women to recreate the 2,000 mile trip to Hudson Bay made famous in “Canoeing with the Cree.”

SAINT PAUL – On expeditions to the farthest reaches of the earth, Ann Bancroft and Will Steger used the Internet to connect to students and allow them to witness and learn about all they discovered.

Another Minnesota explorer is doing the same, but introducing students to waters closer to home.  Natalie Warren wants young people to learn about the watersheds in which they live, and perk their interest to get out and discover them as well.

This year Warren and her staff with the Wild River Academy are returning to the Minnesota River for the annual “Paddle Forward” expedition. Warren and a team of six to eight paddlers will launch their canoes in Big Stone Lake in late August and make their way to the confluence with the Mississippi River by October 9.

In between, they will visit communities along the river, learn about the area’s history, and examine our interactions with the environment by visiting farms, industries and popular recreational destinations.  Each day’s adventure will be part of an on-line curriculum offering students a wide-range of lessons.

“We try to connect the dots,’’ said Warren of the lessons the annual “Paddle Forward’’ expeditions bring to students who join the adventure via the Internet. “Watersheds are so complex and it’s hard to understand when you’re not in them, to understand everything that impacts them.’’

A tipi at the Upper Sioux Agency State Park. The Paddle Forward crew will camp at this and other state parks along the river.

A tipi at the Upper Sioux Agency State Park. The Paddle Forward crew will camp at this and other state parks along the river.

Students at 65 schools participated in the Adventure Learning education model offered by the Wild River Academy’s first Paddle Forward Adventure, an epic run the length of the Mississippi River in 2013. Students at 45 schools in the Illinois River watershed followed and learned from the adventure on that state’s namesake river in 2014.

The return to the Minnesota River puts Warren on familiar waters indeed. Every summer, the Wild River Academy leads high school and college-age students on over-night trips along sections of the river.

And of course, Warren and friend and Ann Raiho made history in 2011 when they became the first women to replicate Eric Sevareid and Walter Port’s 2,000 mile paddle from Fort Snelling to Fort York on Hudson Bay, made famous in Sevareid’s account “Canoeing with the Cree.’’

The 2011 trip opened their eyes to the beauty of the Minnesota River Valley, and to the economic potential its recreational use offers communities along it, said Warren. She said students who have participated in Wild River Academy paddles on the river in the past two summers tell her that they thoroughly enjoyed the river and the challenge of their adventure.

Before the journey, many of those same students confess they knew very little about the river. Some have told her they grew up without even knowing how close it was to their homes.

Warren and Raiho got to know it very well: They paddled upstream against flood-level flows in 2011, managing 1.5 to sometimes 2 miles per hour in 2011.

The 2015 Paddle Forward crew will spend more time going downstream than Warren and Raiho took going upstream, but for good reason. The paddlers will be spending lots of time visiting all the sites along the way.

They are also hoping that residents along the river, elected officials and others will join them to paddle segments of the river.

Warren said they are currently in the process of lining up sites to visit, recruiting paddlers and working to get the word out about their trip to schools. Teachers can make the Paddle Forward trip a part of their curriculum by visiting their website and clicking on the tab for teachers.

She’s also hoping to hear from those along the route who may be interested in hosting the visitors for tours and provide places for them to pitch their tents. They are especially interested in sharing lessons about agriculture, industry, wildlife and recreational opportunities in the watershed.

Warren is also inviting everyone along the way to paddle along with the adventurers. For more information: http://paddle4ward.com/ or email paddle@wildriveracademy.com

 

The Paddle Forward crew pitched their tents under the stars during the Mississippi River adventure in 2013.

The Paddle Forward crew pitched their tents under the stars during the Mississippi River adventure in 2013.