The New Ulm Chapter of the Izaak Walton League looking to attract younger members

Above: Ikes planted trees in 2010 as a restoration project.

NEW ULM — New Ulm’s chapter of the Izaak Walton League hopes to attract younger members to keep the club going.

The Izaak Walton League is a national conservation organization dating back to 1922. The local chapter, chapter 79, was founded in 1925.

“We really would like to touch on the younger generation,” Membership Secretary Tom Wilfahrt said. “To try to move them up the ranks and get them involved because that is kind of the future, the younger generations. If we lose out on that we will see a dying of different conservation groups and ours will be one of them.”

One step in this direction is the clay target shooting team at New Ulm Public Schools. Wilfahrt and Chapter Secretary Tom Nash both work with the team.

Wilfahrt is also the range manager and safety officer of the chapter’s shooting range south of New Ulm.

Chapter 79 uses its firing range to train kids on how to safely handle a firearm.

Their range includes six pistol bays, a center fire rifle range, a shotgun slug and black powder rifle range and a skeet shooting area.

The range was last renovated over a decade ago and the chapter would like to restore the earthen backstops, or berms, to better conditions.

Usually the local “Ikes” (as league members are called) have at least one event a year where they can open the range up to the public, often for firearm safety training or target shooting. The chapter hopes to expand that in 2017.

Chapter 79 is working primarily on prairie restoration and hunting accessibility. Next to the chapter’s range are two acres of land that the chapter is restoring.

“We are working with Prairie Enthusiasts (another conservation group) right now and they are going to help us with a burn that we have to do with the old growth that is there, and then they will seed with some of the prairie grasses,” Secretary Tom Nash said.

The Ikes of New Ulm clean the ditches on County Road 29 twice a year.

Restoring the prairie can help fight the spread of invasive species of plants by removing them and replacing them with native plants.

“There is so much invasive stuff out there now,” Wilfahrt said. “You got buckthorn and all of these others. We are trying to keep and restore prairie grasses and some of the native things that have always been around.”

The other boon to planting prairie grasses is reducing soil erosion.

“The prairie grasses tend to grow real deep root systems and that helps fight erosion,” Nash said. “Whereas other grasses have relatively shorter root systems.”

Along with restoring natural resources, the chapter also works on responsible use of those resources.

“We are also developing handicap-accessible hunting for individuals with physical challenges,” Wilfahrt said.

On chapter-owned land the New Ulm Ikes are working to increase accessibility by making it easier to drive out.

“There are gravel paths down and the roadway has been developed so you can drive on it,” Wilfahrt said. “That way an individual can be driven out there.”

The chapter is planning on making hunting stands that are intended to be easier for individuals with disabilities to use.

“We are going to have enclosed stands, for these individuals,” Wilfahrt said. “They will have windows and a roof and they will be able to get out of the inclement weather.”

There are two permanent, enclosed stands planned. The chapter also intends to add some less permanent hunting stands that can be used by individuals who are relatively mobile.

The Izaak Walton League

The league is named after a 17th century English angler named Izaak Walton. He wrote a book called “The Compleat Angler” — yes, spelt with an “a”— unsurprisingly about the sport of fishing, according to the leagues website.

The mission of the league is “to conserve, restore, and promote the sustainable use and enjoyment of our natural resources, including soil, air, woods, waters and wildlife.”

Ikes have been influential in the development of most major environmental laws since the early 20th century.

The league worked to protect waterways by working for the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, which protect exceptional rivers and their environments. It also helped to passed the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Nationally the league also has pushed for green energies, land conservation, outdoor recreation, sustainable farming, ending DDT use and fish and wildlife conservation, according to its website.

In Minnesota Ikes helped work to conserve the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. Currently the Minnesota Division is advocating a moratorium on sulfide-ore mining. It has resolved to protect Minnesota waters by reducing run-off from agriculture and encouraging proper disposal of prescription drugs so they don’t get dumped down toilets or sinks, according to its website.

The division also supports resolutions to create governing body for the entire Minnesota River Valley Watershed that would work to improve water quality and prevent erosion.

Along with that, the division has endorsed a program from the Friends of the Minnesota River Valley to create a River Watch Program. Wherein high school students across the river valley would test water quality, according to the website.

Anyone interested in learning more or joining the league can contact Wilfahrt at 276-1858. The chapter  can be found on Facebook as the “Izaak Walton New Ulm #79” page. Chapter 79 meets every third Tuesday of the month at their lodge located on the Brown County Fairgrounds in New Ulm during summer and at the American Legion during the winter. The league’s website is iwla.org.

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