Minnesota man nurtures his land for wildlife

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2003

FLOODWOOD, Minn. (AP) Dan Prusi has a different approach to waterfowl and waterfowl hunting than a lot of hunters.

''One of my objectives is to raise more ducks than I shoot each fall, and I'm doing that,'' Prusi said.

Prusi, 50, has spent the past 20 years turning his rural property near Floodwood into some of the best waterfowl and upland wildlife habitat in northeastern Minnesota. Walking through his 77 acres on mowed trails and pond dikes is like walking through a state wildlife management area.

''It really shows what a person can do on a piece of private property like that,'' said Rich Staffon, area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Cloquet.

Over the past two decades, Prusi has created 10 ponds and wetlands totaling 12 to 14 acres. He's cut trees and grown aspen for grouse habitat. He's put up more than 150 duck nesting boxes, about 65 of which are in place today. He's planted 3,500 trees.

The vision for this habitat work came early for Prusi, who grew up in a hunting and fishing family in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

''All my life, I dreamed of doing this,'' Prusi said. ''When I was a kid, I had my toy animals, and I'd have these mini-habitats for them.''

Prusi grew up and moved to northern Minnesota when he married. But he didn't have the property he needed to begin working with wildlife. When his father-in-law offered to sell his 77 acres northeast of Floodwood, Prusi's dream came true.

Now, Prusi and his wife, Sherilee, live among the deer and the ducks and the owls. Sherilee was concerned at one point that Prusi may have created too many wetlands on the property. No problem, Prusi figured. He just connected a few of them, effectively reducing the overall number of ponds. But he acknowledges he has a weakness for creating habitat.

''I can get a little possessed, maybe,'' he said in an interview at his home in late August.

Prusi has done much of the work on a cost-sharing basis with the DNR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.

''If they have money available, I generally find 'em,'' he said. He estimates all of his projects have cost around $35,000 and he's spent about $14,000.

Prusi acknowledges that the DNR's Staffon has been especially valuable in helping him envision and carry out his improvements. Staffon works with many private landowners who want to improve wildlife habitat on their property.

''But (Prusi) would be unusual in terms of the extent he's done,'' Staffon said. ''He really reads and gets as much information as he can before he dives in. Then he has that Finlander practical side to him, too.''

Staffon has provided wild rice seed to Prusi, and Prusi has some phenomenal stands. He walks along one of his wetlands where this year's crop rises over his head and bows in the midday sun.

At another pond, Prusi points out a wood duck nesting box where the same hen raised broods for five years in a row close to 50 ducklings. But natural selection still goes on in this wildlife paradise. That wood duck hen was killed by a mink, Prusi said.

Prusi stops to pick up an owl feather and examine it. He has put up chicken wire as a base for a great horned owl nest, and one has nested there for several years.

His property produces blue-winged teal and mallards, hooded mergansers and wood ducks. At its peak, Prusi's nesting boxes produced 82 ducklings. Now the average is about 50 per year.

Always an avid bow deer hunter, Prusi wasn't a waterfowl hunter until about 12 years ago.

''I'd be out there watching, and I got fascinated with waterfowl,'' he said.

Prusi said he'd like to continue working on his wildlife habitat, but he's been sidetracked by an involuntary career change. After 28 years at L & M Radiator in Hibbing, he was laid off in April 2002. He and Sherilee decided the time was right for Prusi to pursue another dream, that of becoming a writer.

''Country Boy,'' tales from Prusi's youth, was published in September of 2002. ''A Hunter's Journey'' came out in December 2002, and ''A Hunter's Year'' was published in last June.

''I've never worked so hard for so little money and had so much fun,'' Prusi said.

But between book signings this fall, Prusi will be out in the woods with his bow and shotgun. He'll probably be gathering material for more books and planning more wildlife habitat at home.

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