Pheasants Forever–Conserving Wildlife through Habitat Protection and Restoration

Prairie wildflower display  on Conservation Reserve Program lands in Clark County, South Dakota (photo by Matt Morlock)

Prairie wildflower display on Conservation Reserve Program lands in Clark County, South Dakota (photo by Matt Morlock)

Pheasants Forever is celebrating 30 years as a leader in conservation of pheasants, quail and other upland wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness and education, and land management policies and programs. Since its inception in 1982, Pheasants Forever wildlife habitat projects have benefited more than 8.5 million acres across the United States. 

“Conservation and protection of soil and water resources through Pheasants Forever programs has had a significant impact on upland wildlife,” explains Matt Holland, Wildlife Biologist and Director of Grant Development for Pheasants Forever. “Wildlife is dependent on habitat, and when habitat is restored and protected the benefits to soil, water, wildlife and human quality of life are also enhanced.” 

The Pheasants Forever mission is tied directly to a strong framework of federal conservation programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), with authority granted through the Federal Farm Bill. A unique partnership between Pheasants Forever, state, and federal agencies supports Farm Bill Biologists within priority pheasant habitat areas. 

“Our job is to assist landowners in designing, developing, and funding habitat improvements on private lands,” explains Matt Morlock, a Farm Bill Biologist in Brookings, South Dakota. “The majority of our work is directly related to reseeding, restoration, and maintenance, including invasive plant control on private lands enrolled in CRP or Wetland Reserve Programs (WRP). The most common invasive plants infesting our habitat projects include Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), biennial wormwood (Artemisia biennis), musk thistle (Carduus nutans), leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) and grasses such as smooth brome (Bromus inermis) and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis).”


Habitat Forever, LLC is a subsidiary of Pheasants Forever and provides specialists for hire to land owners and managers interested in restoring or maintaining existing habitat. Habitat specialist Dennis Pederson from Montevideo, Minnesota explains that the Pheasants Forever and Habitat Forever networks provide expertise on creating and maintaining quality wildlife habitat. 

“In the last 12 years, our team has seeded about 13,000 acres and burned about 30,000 acres to improve wildlife habitat within a 13-county area in west central Minnesota. The bulk of our work is providing advice and recommendations on prairie restoration projects, seeding desirable native grasses and forbs, conducting prescribed burns, and selling native wildflower and grass seed,” says Pederson. 

Scenes from the field. Dennis Pederson is a Habitat Forever specialist (top left). • Collaborative research site at Rath, Minnesota to determine best management practices for Milestone and Transline herbicide treatments in prairie restoration (top right). • Prairie restoration often includes use of prescribed fire to enhance seeding success, or to maintain a more diverse plant community for wildlife (bottom left). • Restored wetlands (bottom right).

Habitat specialists also network with universities and private industry on invasive plant management projects. Pederson is currently collaborating with Dr. Roger Becker (University of Minnesota) and Dow AgroSciences on a study to determine the best management practices for using Milestone® and Transline® herbicides in prairie restoration. 

“As part of our collaboration we help the university and industry partners find sites to conduct field research. This partnership gives us the opportunity to observe first-hand the effectiveness of herbicide treatments on target and non-target plants—information that helps us do a better job on our restoration projects and invasive plant control,” Pederson explains. 

Canada thistle is a perennial noxious weed that is widespread in Pederson’s management area. “Either Milestone at 7 fluid ounces per acre (fl oz/A) or Transline at 10 to 12 fl oz/A provides excellent Canada thistle control,” says Pederson. Although these are broadleaf herbicides, Pederson has a strategy to protect wildflowers from herbicide injury. 

Wildlife is dependent on habitat, and when habitat is restored and protected the benefits to soil, water, wildlife and human quality of life are also enhanced.
— MATT HOLLAND, Wildlife Biologist and Director of Grant Development for Pheasants Forever

BEFORE AND AFTER. A 140-acre wetland restoration project before (left) and two years after (right) restoration in Renville County, Minnesota.

“On Canada thistle infested sites where wildflowers are present and established for at least two growing seasons, our field work suggests that it’s best to delay herbicide treatment until fall following a light frost. We’ve found that a temperature of 28 degrees F will cause many wildflowers to become dormant, but Canada thistle will remain viable for a longer period of time. This application timing provides excellent control of Canada thistle and minimizes injury to some desirable wildflowers,” says Pederson. 

Data from field studies suggest that some wildflowers are sensitive to fall herbicide application. It is important for land managers to understand what wildflowers are present prior to fall herbicide treatments to minimize damage to desirable plants. 

Pederson utilized data from the University of Minnesota and Dow AgroSciences to develop a seeding mix for south central Minnesota that was tolerant to applications of Milestone and Transline (Table 1). This mix may be a useful guide for reseeding or restoring sites infested with Canada thistle or other perennial broadleaf weeds that have been treated or are proposed for herbicide treatment. 


Pheasants Forever is proud of the work they have accomplished, but recognize the challenge of keeping conservation and habitat protection relevant on a landscape scale. “The increasing need to produce more food, fiber and places to live, pose future challenges for protecting wildlife habitat,” says Holland. “As an organization we will continue to expand on new and innovative ideas for wildlife conservation, and advocate for a long term vision of sustainable agriculture that protects and conserves wildlife habitat. Our mission is to continue to keep soil, water, and habitat conservation on the ground to sustain our way of life in this country.”


Bringing it all together: 

See page 6 for Dennis Pederson’s tips for managing Canada thistle, and seeding recommendations for Canada thistle infested sites.

®™Trademark of Dow AgroSciences, DuPont or Pioneer and their affiliated companies or respective owners. Milestone is not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. When treating areas in and around roadside or utility rights-of-way that are or will be grazed, hayed or planted to forage, important label precautions apply regarding harvesting hay from treated sites, using manure from animals grazing on treated areas or rotating the treated area to sensitive crops. See the product label for details. State restrictions on the sale and use of Milestone and Transline apply. Consult the label before purchase or use for full details. Always read and follow label directions. ©2019 Corteva

Active ingredients for herbicide products mentioned in this article: Milestone (aminopyralid), Transline (clopyralid)