Farm Horizons, June 2012

McDonalds honored as outstanding Carver conservationists

By Starrla Cray

When Bill McDonald sees the songbirds and swans on his farm in rural Watertown, he can’t help but think of his father, Philip “Flip” McDonald.

“After living in southeastern Minnesota for 17 years, my family and I moved back home to the farm,” Bill said. “I got to be with my dad the last years of his life.”

Before Flip passed away in January, he and Bill worked together to create a wildlife oasis on their scenic family farm.

Their dedication made them ideal candidates for the outstanding conservationist award in Carver County, and they were honored at the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD) annual meeting in Bloomington in December 2011.

The award, which has support from The Farmer magazine, highlights individuals for implementing conservation practices and improving Minnesota’s natural resources.

According to the Carver County Soil and Water nomination form, the McDonalds’ first conservation reserve program (CRP) enrollment was in 1996.

In 2006, Flip decided to put the entire farm into CRP, and the family started a small-scale pheasant hunting preserve.

“We had been talking about it for years,” Bill said. “There was no habitat for deer, and not nearly the number of ducks there used to be.”

Bill has a journal his grandfather, Kenneth McDonald, wrote as a child in 1912.

“He documented his hunting experiences, and there were a lot more ducks in those days,” Bill said.

Kenneth and his wife, Margaret, purchased the 240-acre farm (now known as Wings of Watertown) in the 1930s.

An extra 80 acres was purchased later on.

When Flip took over the farm, he ran a dairy operation until 1979, when he quit milking and rented out the land.

A few years ago, Bill and his wife, Lis, along with their three children, decided to move back to the family farm.

Like his father, Bill enjoys passing his passion for conservation to the next generation.

As a teacher at Watertown-Mayer Middle School, he organized the middle school’s outdoors conservation club, which focuses on hunting, fishing, conservation, and general outdoor education.

“These experiences range from actual hunting outings (pheasant, duck, and deer hunts), fishing trips, camping, trap shooting, habitat establishment, and many more,” the nomination form stated.

In addition to working with youth, Wings of Watertown helps outdoorsmen enjoy hunting safely and privately, at an affordable price.

“Conservatively, I would say we had 300 people out there last year – 400 including kids,” Bill said.

The farm is a “roosters only,” “non-toxic shot” preserve, and also includes more than 50 acres of non-huntable CRP for native birds and other wildlife.

With swamp grass, cattails, food plots, woods, restored wetlands, nesting areas, and more, Wings of Watertown supports a diverse habitat.

“Biologists say we should be able to support 17 to 19 deer,” Bill said. “We haven’t seen that high of numbers, but the population is going up.”

About seven acres of wildlife food plots are maintained on a yearly basis. According to the nomination, about half of these are covered under the CRP program, while the other half are being planted and maintained at the family’s expense.

The farm has more than four acres of new wildlife tree plantings, with selective timber harvest of older/dead trees to promote new growth.

“Last year, we sprayed the entire farm for thistles,” Bill said, adding that they have also been removing invasive species and buckthorn.

Although maintenance is ongoing, Bill said he’s already noticed improvement.

“The sheer amount of songbirds is unbelievable,” he said. “We also have ducks and geese, and four swans out there right now.”

To learn more about Wings of Watertown (15950 Co. Rd. 20), call (612) 756-4609 or go to www.wingsofwatertown.com.

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