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DNR to increase emphasis on roadside habitat (2005-10-25)
Minnesota's roadsides will soon get more attention from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR has hired Tom Keefe to head up the agency's newly funded Roadsides for Wildlife program.

The program aims to increase habitat, especially in the pheasant range, through partnerships and outreach with public and private landowners.

"The program will focus on two primary objectives," said Keefe. "The first is to increase the use of native grasses in right-of-ways. The second is to decrease mowing, especially during those times when a delay can be helpful to pheasant and songbird populations."

The new focus on roadsides is the result of action from the 2004 and 2005 legislative sessions. In 2004, the Minnesota Legislature directed the DNR, Department of Transportation and others to recommend ways to promote and improve wildlife habitat within the right-of-way of public roads. In 2005, the Legislature appropriated $200,000 to implement those recommendations, which include an emphasis on highway safety.

"We intend to use a variety of tools to improve habitat," said Keefe. "They include cost-sharing, integrated training for roadside managers, developing new partnerships, and simply reaching out to those who have an interest in conservation and reducing the costs of annual roadside maintenance."

Heading up the roadside program represents a new challenge for Keefe, a 26-year DNR employee, who spent the past nine years developing and implementing the DNR's Electronic Licensing System. A biologist, he has also served for 17 years in a variety of wildlife field and program coordinator positions.

"I'm looking forward to this job," said Keefe. "Though the DNR has not focused on roadsides in recent years because of higher priorities, their habitat value is obvious. It is encouraging to see a renewed interest in capturing this potential."

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