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News Articles

26
Posted on Wed, Jun. 30, 2004

Pheasants Forever taking flight with TV series

BY CHRIS NISKANEN

Pioneer Press


The conservation group Pheasants Forever is making its move to cable television.

Officials with the St. Paul organization say Pheasants Forever Television will begin airing on the Outdoor Life Network in fall 2005, joining conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited in the use of cable television to build membership.

For the first season at least, Pheasants Forever Television will have a familiar host — Ron Schara, the Minneapolis-based outdoors celebrity who has inked a deal to produce the show and sell advertising around it.

The deal is unique because Pheasants Forever won't have to shoulder the show's funding or the risk. Pheasants Forever will get a piece of the advertising revenue, but the show will be entirely filmed, produced and sold by Ron Schara Enterprises, Schara's media company.

"We've never done a TV show because of the costs and risks of running and launching one,'' said Joe Duggan, vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever. "With this deal, we won't have to come up with any of the underwriting.''

Filming began earlier this month with the dedication of a Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area near Little Falls, Minn., a project that PF helped fund. Story lines still are being developed, but the emphasis will be primarily on wildlife habitat and how the group creates it.

"This won't be a pheasant shoot 'em up show,'' said PF spokesman Bob St. Pierre. "It won't be 30 minutes of birds falling out of the sky. It is about putting wildlife habitat on the ground."

Host of "Minnesota Bound" on KARE-11 and "Backroads with Ron and Raven" on ESPN2, Schara is a longtime fixture in the Twin Cities outdoors media market. He's also a lifetime member of PF. He was in Alaska on Tuesday filming for other programs but issued this statement through his office:

"Pheasants Forever Television will be a variety show where the pheasant is the star, along with the work of the people who help to expand the bird's habitat."

St. Pierre said the show will expand the group's name and mission outside the Midwest, where its membership is strongest. PF was founded in St. Paul in 1982 by a group of hunters hoping to improve pheasant populations. Two founding members are former Pioneer Press staffers: outdoors writer Dennis Anderson and advertising salesman Jeff Finden.

Pheasants Forever has 108,000 members (96,000 adults), and it raised $29.1 million in 2003 and spent $28.7 million on habitat and education projects.

While television will help build membership, it also will provide a forum to advocate for wildlife habitat, St. Pierre said.

"There are a lot of other states, like Montana, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, where the name Pheasants Forever isn't well known,'' St. Pierre said. "The potential is substantial. It broadens the scope to a true national platform."

Pheasants Forever is one of the last big-name national conservation groups not to have its own cable television show. Ducks Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Trout Unlimited have their own cable shows, St. Pierre said.

"I've had dozens of producers of television shows approach us to do a show,'' he said, adding the problem is when other groups fund their own shows and pull money out of their budgets to produce it.

"We're not going to take money out of one pocket and move it to another,'' he said. PF officials didn't want to dilute the group's mission of devoting 90 percent of its funds to pheasant habitat and education.

The show will feature the group's conservation efforts and profiles of members, plus segments on dog training, creating wildlife habitat and hunting tips. The show will follow closely the magazine format of Schara's other programs. He will host the show for the first year, but hosting duties after that are up in the air, said Kelly Jo Weiner, director of operations for Ron Schara Enterprises.

Schara's national program, "Backroads with Ron and Raven" will be switching from ESPN2 to the Outdoor Life Network, which also airs a Schara program called "Call of the Wild." In addition to the outdoor TV shows and a radio show, Schara produces two cable segments on all-terrain vehicles called "ATV Sport" and "ATV Magazine" for Twin Cities-based Ehlert Publishing and writes a column for the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune newspaper.

Schara is a natural fit for Pheasants Forever because of his advocacy on behalf of conservation. PF has grown into one of the most vocal groups speaking in favor of nuts-and-bolts conservation programs.

Politically, it has been a force in states and Washington, D.C., in advocating for upland and wetland habitat. It is one of the most vocal proponents for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a nationwide program that pays farmers to idle sensitive farmland.

St. Pierre said about half of the nation's 40 million acres of CRP are up for renewal in 2007, and a television show would be a forum for advocating for the program.

The show will get a sneak preview Jan. 15 at the Pheasants Fest convention sponsored by PF in Omaha, Neb.


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Outdoors editor Chris Niskanen can be reached at cniskanen@pioneerpress.com.

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