Habitat & Conservation  |  01/05/2023

It's Just Natural: Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award 2022


Will Horsley, Clay County PF and Conservation Board partner for upland habitat and outdoor heritage in northwestern Iowa

In an exciting annual program recognizing conservationists nationwide who champion upland habitat work in their local community, the winning team for this year’s Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award hails from Clay County, Iowa.

Congratulations to Will Horsley, Director of the Clay County Conservation Board and dedicated partner to Clay County Pheasants Forever Chapter #42, for winning this year’s Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award. Indian Motorcycle of Okoboji is the local Polaris dealer.

The nomination for Horsley reads like a “what’s what” of right things to do in the upland conservation world. Horsley is recognized for:

  • Partnering with Clay County PF to acquire and improve habitat on 168 acres of land. A 133-acre area had 50 acres of upland habitat development with native grasses and wildflowers, and an 8-acre food plot.
  • Assisting chapter efforts in acquiring a 35-acre addition to the Rivertown Wildlife Area, growing it to 196 acres total (this included seeding native prairie and preparing food plots on the new acreage).
  • Providing support for the Clay County PF Burn Crew.
  • Coordinating a location for the chapter to construct a building to house Clay County PF’s burn equipment and other supplies.
  • Working to improve and expand youth outdoor education by facilitating the move and design development of a donated building to create the Oneota Environmental Learning Center (OELC).
  • Lining up funding sources for completion of the OELC.
  • Networks with a wide variety of organizations, not just PF, to highlight habitat and outdoor recreation in the rural gem that is Clay County in northwestern Iowa.
 “It is such a pleasure to be affiliated with Clay County Pheasants Forever,” says Horsley. “Teaming up with them, it’s just natural. They are second to none: hard chargers for conservation, habitat work and hunting heritage in our area.”

“Will is a critical and essential resource for our chapter,” confirms Clay County PF President Paul Daniels. “He’s a real partner.”

“Just for starters,” says Daniels, “Will helps us with connections and coordination for land purchases of marginal to downright poor crop ground that would make great acquisitions for Clay County wildlife areas.” Clay County boasts more than 15,000 acres of public lands open to hunting and the chapter is integral to growing that count.

“Will is also an asset to our burn program,” adds Daniels. “He will occasionally come and help us on the ground, but in a bigger sense it his advice, expertise and insight into safe, effective burns, and where we conduct them, to help the habitat.”

“They are real burn pros,” says Horsley of the Clay County PF volunteers, “and they really get the job done to keep our grassland habitat renewed and vibrant here in Clay County.”
Will Horsley at work.
“The volunteers of Clay County Pheasants Forever don’t dream about habitat work,” adds Chance Steward, PF’s regional representative for Western Minnesota and Northern Iowa. “They get dirty and do it. They burned nearly 2,000 acres this spring. Clay County Pheasants Forever is changing their local landscape one burn at a time. It is a passionate, reliable and safety-minded team.”

“In addition to their boots-on-the-ground habitat work,” adds Steward, “the chapter also boasts an impressive social media presence, hosts an annual youth hunt, conducts an impressive banquet, and runs one of the nation’s largest women’s hunts.”

Outdoor heritage is a part of the fabric of life in Clay County. “The partnership with Clay County PF on the Oneota Learning Center is important and impactful — it is a place for youth to embrace science, conservation and natural resources,” says Horsley.

What will the chapter do with their new Polaris Sportsman ATV? 

“We love Polarises,” says Daniels. “We have two 6-wheelers, and a 570. This new one will have a wide variety of uses. One is to help with our burn program. We have plenty of volunteers, but we need more ways for them to get around a burn area, lug gear and so forth. This ATV will really help us get more done, and safely so, for regenerating habitat.”

“We will also use it for seeding projects, youth hunts, women’s learn-to-hunt and other chapter events,” adds Daniels, “you name it. It will get used!”

Horsley sums it all up best: “The partnership between Clay County Conservation Board and Clay County PF is a perfect example of teaming up to get more done. Our priorities and goals align so well. I am proud to receive the award. But it’s the partnership and the volunteers that make it happen. It’s just natural … the right thing for our wild places and our community.”

How the Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award Program Works

Each year, PF and QF chapters across the country are asked to identify a person who has championed habitat work in the local community. This could be a landowner, chapter volunteer, local sponsor or partner, you name it. This person is then honored (ideally at the chapter’s banquet) for their work. Chapters nationwide get a chance to show appreciation for upland habitat where things really happen: locally. From all local winners, one national award winner is chosen. The winning chapter receives a Polaris Sportsman ATV to continue their local habitat work. Look for 2023’s Polaris Habitat Stewardship Award program entry information for your chapter this spring.

This story originally appeared in the 2023 Winter Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!