Hitting their mark: Pheasants Forever group celebrates habitat work

After two decades, an Auglaize County organization eclipsed the $500,000 mark for their cause — funds used to protect and develop land for pheasants and other wildlife.

The Auglaize County Pheasants Forever organization celebrated reaching the milestone Saturday during their 21st annual banquet and fundraiser in the Junior Fair Building at the Auglaize County Fairgrounds.

“Tonight’s (Saturday’s) event is very important because every bit of the money we make tonight stays in Auglaize County,” Auglaize County Pheasants Forever President Jim Heistan told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “This event determines our budget — how much we can spend and where it goes.”

The money raised is used to develop and maintain wildlife habitat throughout the county, to conduct a youth deer hunt in the fall and to provide 10 scholarships to students as well as other events and programs.

“We also help with wetlands, which is a cost-share program with the landowner,” Heistan said. “We will help with a special drill to plant the special grass seed through money we have raised to help the landowner.”

Former Auglaize County Wildlife Officer Dave Sheets, who also is a member of the local Pheasants Forever organization, said the organization works with the local Farm Service Agency (FSA) to marry up its money with the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to develop more habitat along rivers, streams and creeks.

The CRP program is aimed at environmentally sensitive land along a stream or land subject to wind erosion as well as ground beneficial to wildlife.

“I came here in 1993 and with CRP that the Farm Service Agency was promoting back then — I think our high point was 1998 to 2003 or 2004,” Sheets said. “What has happened since is the price for grain has risen so much that the farmer or a renter is taking land out of a CRP contract because they may be earning or paid $250 per acre or so while the government may be paying only $150.

“There is such a big differential and so many thousands of acres here in the county have come out of habitat and went back into production,” he said. “I don’t blame the farmers, but that is a fact. By doing that the habitat has decreased so the numbers have decreased.”

Sheets, who lives near Waynesfield, said pheasants numbers were “very strong” in Union and Wayne townships but have since decreased.

Heistan noted their efforts expand beyond pheasants.

“Everything we help put out there helps every type of wildlife and that’s pheasants, quail, songbirds and deer,” Heistan said. “Habitat is the key to any type of wildlife and this chapter really cares about habitat and wildlife.

“It is through this banquet that we are able to encourage the development of wildlife,” he said, “and we thank the people who have contributed and supported us.”