Wildlife champs

Providing for and protecting Martin County wildlife has always been a goal of five longtime hunting friends. In fact, they believed in helping local wildlife so much that they became business partners, bought land and applied numerous conservation practices on it.

Since 1995, Milt Smith, Doug Hartke, Tim Eisenmenger, Rod Eisenmenger and Scott Kittleson have participated in state and federal programs to permanently protect wildlife habitat on approximately 425 acres of marginal land that they own. They have established 32 acres of trees and shrubs, restored 165 acres of wetland and planted almost 230 acres to native prairie.

Key Points

SHEEK Inc. honored as the top state conservationist.

Multiple owners work to provide wildlife habitat.

Trees, shrubs, native grasses and flowers have been planted.

For their dedicated conservation efforts, the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and The Farmer recognized SHEEK Inc., owned by Smith, Hartke, the Eisenmengers and Kittleson, plus Tim Nelson and Dale Schumann, as the state’s Outstanding Conservationists.

Last summer, local SWCDs nominated landowners and farmers for MASWCD’s annual conservation awards. Eight regional winners were selected from the pool of local winners. And from the top eight regional nominees, one state winner was selected and recognized at MASWCD’s annual convention in December in St. Paul.

Kittleson — the “K” in SHEEK — grew up on a dairy farm north of Sherburn and now lives in Aitkin, working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He says the men in their group have hunted together for years and have worked on various projects through the Fox Lake Conservation League of Sherburn and Ducks Unlimited.

“We always have focused on how we can help the wildlife in Martin County,” Kittleson says.

They have four different sites that they call SHEEK 1, 2, 3 and 4. Their main focus now is to maintain the health and vibrancy of their wildlife habitat.

“All of the SHEEKs have lush stands of native grass and wildflowers that we seeded,” Kittleson says. “We planted 2,500 trees on SHEEK 2 and 7,500 trees on SHEEK 4. SHEEK 4 also includes many oak, walnut and basswood trees.”

All SHEEK lands also contain large wetland restorations.

“Tim and his family do a lot of mowing to keep thistles in check and to help the trees get a good head start,” Kittleson says. “My family and I help with this on our trips back to Martin County.” The rest of the landowners help with various tasks. All take part in doing prescribed burning on some land every spring on a rotational basis.

“This really helps the native grasses keep their strong vitality, and it controls thistles,” Kittleson says. “We can see the thistles decreasing year by year.”

Efforts honored: Scott Kittleson, one of the owners who formed SHEEK Inc., accepted the 2010 State Conservationist Award at the MASWCD annual meeting last month in St. Paul.

This article published in the January, 2011 edition of THE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.