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Brad Nylin, 49, has been executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association (MWA) for 11 years. A lifelong duck hunter who learned the craft from his grandfather and an uncle, Nylin has steered MWA through stormy financial seas, and now has the group on strong footing. In the interview below, Nylin, who grew up in New Hope and now lives in Maple Grove, talks about MWA and its habitat and educational programs.

Q When and where did the Minnesota Waterfowl Association get its start?

A Four men from Albert Lea started the group in 1967. Dick Lindell, Tom Tubbs, the late Bob Head and Ray Hangge. They didn’t think shallow lakes in their area were receiving enough management attention from the Department of Natural Resources, so they began what at the time they called the Southern Minnesota Lake Improvement Association, which was the forerunner to MWA.

Q Was their original intent to form a statewide waterfowl group?

A No. They wanted to work locally for resources in their area.

Q But ultimately they helped establish the state duck stamp that is required to hunt waterfowl in Minnesota.

A They did. When they started pushing for more shallow lakes management, the DNR said they didn’t have the money to pay for it. The idea then arose to have a state waterfowl stamp, much like the federal stamp. It took some years to become reality. But in 1977, the first Minnesota waterfowl stamp was required of hunters. The image on that stamp was the MWA logo. The stamp costs $7.50 now, but at the time it was $3.

Q Had MWA expanded statewide by then?

A They did that beginning in 1971. From that time until now our membership has fluctuated quite a bit, as has the nature of our habitat work. Today we focus on more than shallow lakes. We work also on uplands, wetlands and everything in between to benefit ducks and other wildlife.

Q What was the group’s peak membership?

A At one time in the early 2000s we had about 7,500 members. Now we have about 2,500. There are a lot of reasons for the decline, some of which are affecting other conservation groups as well. That said, MWA is on sound financial footing, and our habitat work is more expansive than ever. We’re constantly looking for new members, of course, and believe we have a lot to offer them. But our habitat work remains focused and strong.

Q How many MWA chapters are there?

A Ten, from the northern part of the state to the south, with a concentration in the north metro, where there are four. Our biggest chapter is in New Prague.

Q How do the chapters operate?

A When they do a fundraiser, 35 percent of the money they raise stays locally to develop habitat in the chapter’s area. Our role at the state headquarters is to help coordinate the chapter’s habitat work, and to the extent possible supplement it. If it’s a bigger project, for instance, we’ll partner with other organizations or seek grant money to help fund it.

Q What kind of grants help fund MWA habitat projects?

A We’ve been particularly effective in receiving money from the Conservation Legacy Partners program, which is funded by the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. To be awarded these funds, chapters are required to match 10 percent of the grant amount. It’s been a great program for us.

Q Talk about the challenge of finding and enrolling new members.

A It’s a big challenge, and I think for a combination of reasons. Most of our members are die-hard duck hunters. They’re typically a little older, say in their 50s and 60s. The challenge oftentimes with younger people is that they simply don’t have the time it takes to organize a chapter, work at a banquet or help with habitat work. That said, there is a lot of interest in our group, and our name is well known. Turning that into more members is what we work on every day.

Q MWA has long been known for its conservation education programs.

A The biggest part of that is Woodie Camp, which is a summer camp for kids we operate near Fergus Falls. Our goal there is to expose kids to every aspect of waterfowl hunting; to plant a seed we hope will result one day in development of a conservationist and a hunter. We do this at Woodie Camp by exposing kids to every aspect of waterfowling, from biology — why might a duck use one wetland and not another? — to hunting.

Kids like the camp, and many of them come back year after year because we make it fun. About half of kids who attend are from hunting families. The other half aren’t. So by exposing all of them to decoy painting, duck calling, biology, shooting — everything to do with waterfowling — we hope that one or more aspects of the sport will get them excited.

We also do a summer youth program with Three Rivers Parks in the metro, and an August program that takes kids through waterfowl and firearms education, leading up to mentored hunts that occur each year on Youth Waterfowl Day.

Q MWA cosponsors an annual spring waterfowl symposium held in the Twin Cities, the 21st consecutive of which was scheduled for Saturday in Bloomington but was canceled due to weather. What do the symposiums accomplish?

A We put the symposium on in partnership with the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The idea is to get duck hunters together with biologists who have the latest information about waterfowl and conservation. That way, hunters can have the most current information about waterfowl and waterfowl habitat when they go afield.

For more information about the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, go online at mnwaterfowl.com or phone 952-767-0320.