During his lifetime, Dennis Haaland left his signature on wildlife lands throughout Southwestern Minnesota through his work to improve habitat and create wildlife management areas.
“A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke [of the axe] he is writing his signature on the face of the land.” – Aldo Leopold
A conservationist true to the spirit of Aldo Leopold, Dennis Haaland left his signature on a lot of land in southwestern Minnesota during his lifetime.
He and his wife Mary Jo raised two sons on a small farm west of Clarkfield in the center of Yellow Medicine County. He is remembered as an avid hunter, an athletic director and teacher in the Clarkfield Schools who inspired young people, a small farmer who cared about the soil, and devoted parent and husband.
His passion to work on projects to protect and enhance wildlife habitat will likely be his most lasting legacy. He recruited fellow hunters, farmers, and anyone with an interest in the outdoors to work on projects to improve habitat. They’d work on weekends to improve wildlife management lands, or to plant wind breaks and winter cover for wildlife on farm lands. He organized farmers along a ditch in Yellow Medicine County and together they planted a four-mile long buffer strip on both sides to provide pheasant habitat.
And year after year, he’d get people together to raise the funds and convince private and public organizations to acquire land for wildlife management areas.
Dennis Haaland loved to hunt pheasants, waterfowl and turkey, but always gave back more than he took.
He was a charter member of the East Medicine Chapter of Pheasants Forever in Yellow Medicine County, and helped revive the chapter when it hit tough times not too many years ago.
He died October 18, 2010 doing what he loved most. He was on a pheasant and waterfowl hunting trip near Britton, S.D., when his heart suddenly failed him at age 73.
Friends immediately realized it was now their job to carry on his work. They made it their goal to acquire land and create a Wildlife Management Area in memory of Haaland, according to Stan Santjer, president of the East Medicine chapter of Pheasants Forever. The idea “came up very quickly’’ in the wake of Haaland’s passing, he said.
The 80-acre, Dennis Haaland Wildlife Management Area was formally dedicated on Saturday. A prairie wind whipped the long grasses as family and friends gathered to do the honors. A rooster pheasant flushed from the grasses as the short ceremony got underway. It was taken as a sign.
“He would have been thrilled,’’ said Mary Jo Haaland of how her late husband would have reacted to the idea that a Wildlife Management Area would be dedicated in his name.
The site is located along Spring Creek about a 15-minute drive southwest of Clarkfield on County Road 3. When purchased, it included about 23 acres of wetland and lowlands along the creek, 20 acres of grass lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, and 37 acres of cropped land. Pheasants Forever contracted with Habitat Forever to seed native prairie on the tilled acres.
Dennis Haaland knew the value of protecting our wildlife lands for future generations.
The East Medicine chapter donated funds towards acquiring the land, but knew it did not have the resources to take on the whole project. Just like Haaland had done so often, the chapter reached out to others to make the acquisition possible. A sign at the Dennis Haaland WMA holds the names of the individuals and organizations that contributed towards the project. Funds from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage also played a big role in making it all possible, according to Santjer.
He was among those who lauded Haaland’s passion for the outdoors and especially, his drive to get things done. Santjer figures that Haaland knew better than most of us that our time here is short, and consequently made the most of it.
Mary Jo Haaland said her late husband’s love for hunting and conservation came from growing up on a farm.
He cared deeply about protecting the soil, and often showed visitors the fence-line that he refused to plow down on his own farm. It stood two or more feet higher than the cropped fields, making obvious the topsoil lost to erosion.
Friends knew him as a person of strong convictions when it came to conservation, and as someone who could sit down and explain the reasons for his convictions with anyone.
He was always willing to introduce others to hunting and the outdoors, and served often as a mentor to people of all ages, said Santjer.
Dr. Roger Harms, M.D., Rochester, was among those with Haaland on his last hunting trip. Harms credits Haaland with introducing him to pheasant hunting in southwestern Minnesota, and something more.
His friend showed him how a life lived enjoying the outdoors can be greatly enriched by assuring the future of those resources for others, Harms wrote in a tribute. Haaland has made possible many places in southwestern Minnesota “to make sure that his children and grandchildren and the citizens of Minnesota would have the places available that put us in awe of the Creator,” Harms wrote.
“Today, we dedicate acres of land that will forever be one of those places. That it bears the name of Dennis Haaland is a reflection of the beauty and goodness that a person can achieve in a lifetime and stands as an example to us all,’’ he concluded.
Mary Jo Haaland and son, Corey Haaland were among those who helped dedicate the new Wildlife Management Area in memory of her late husband.