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Family Revels in Investment to Return Wildlife

If you want to spend time hunting or fishing with Brian Dahl and his two sons, you’d better show up with a shovel. You won’t be digging postholes or scooping manure. Rather, the Rushford, Minnesota, farmers often need help planting trees.

“We’ve probably planted over 20,000 trees on our hillsides,” Dahl says with pride. “It’s a lot of work. So, we have a big pig roast every spring, and anybody who wants to come back and hunt with us better show up for a little work.”

Volunteers do show up. They help adorn the Dahl farm hillsides with white and red oak, aspen, black walnut, black cherry, and other species. The Dahls are also rebuilding some of their ponds with advice and help from conservation groups.

Fostering Upland Birds, Deer, and Trout

Another farm improvement project they work on involves native trout that ply the waters of the south fork of the Root River, which runs through the low ground, as well. “We are working with water conservation groups to increase the good habitat for trout by managing trees,” Dahl says. “We will be taking out box elders and other undesirable trees that have grown so big and gnarly that they’ve choked out parts of the stream.”

Dahl and his sons are also following good deer herd-management practices. They harvested three bucks and 20 does from their herd this year. 

“I had to leave my stand for a few hours to go to a meeting this fall. My kids took my spot and shot the biggest buck we’ve seen in a long time. They called me whoopin’ it up and laughing. That was pretty cool,” he says.

160 Years Old

The family farm harks back to 1855, when Dahl’s Norwegian immigrant grandfather, Torjust Eiken, settled in this area. 

“This ground is pretty rough in spots,” Dahl says. “A big field in the bottom ground would be 90 to 100 acres. They used to say, ‘If you bought an acre of tillable, you had to take an acre of hillside.’ Now, the hillside is more valuable than the tillable, with the demand from hunters and others who want wildland.”

On Dahl’s tillable 800 acres, it’s all corn and beans – and wildlife.

Reviving Quail

A  particular 3-acre piece of top ground has been a recent focus of Dahl’s. He has worked to turn that into habitat for bobwhite quail, a species long since disappeared from Minnesota wildlands. His neighbor has put in 70 adjacent acres of the same. 

“It’s just marvelous to see,” Dahl says. “The quail used to be here years and years ago. We’re far enough into southern Minnesota that they can actually survive the tough winters. In fact, nearby Caledonia, Minnesota, is the place where Minnesota conservationists first reintroduced the wild turkey back in the early 1980s.”

Dahl proudly displays a phone picture of a field on his lowlands, sporting a long string of over 100 eastern turkeys picking at seeds. Turkeys are now so plentiful in Minnesota that they’re open for public hunting almost all over the state.

Dahl and his wife, Nancy, raised two sons, Erik and Jorgen, on this land. Nancy recently retired from a 26-year career at Lifetouch Studios, a photography business. 

Erik, a recent college graduate, works at nearby M&M Lawn and Leisure, the largest Polaris dealer in the lower 48 states. He also works as a seed adviser for Syngenta and has taken over the active management of the family farm.

Jorgen is at South Dakota State University studying agriculture technology and agribusiness. Honing his interests in the family’s wildlife production abilities, he’s also starting up an outfitting business called HD Outfitters.

In the meantime, Dahl is still pretty busy on the farm, but he says, “I’m really hoping NOT to be so busy soon.”

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