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Fergus Falls Wetland Management District says farewell to Kevin Brennan

After thirty-six years, Kevin Brennan is retiring from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as the project leader for the Fergus Falls Wetland Management District.

Ever-present as the prairie wind, Brennan has been a motivating force for conservation in the north country for more than two decades. The district will be hosting a retirement celebration for Brennan December 29 from 3 to 6 p.m., at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center, 602 State Highway 210, Fergus Falls, and the public is welcome to attend.

Brennan's career path has taken him across the Prairie Pothole Region, and down into Kansas, from Devils Lake Wetland Management District and Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge to J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge, Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge and finally Fergus Falls Wetland Management District, where he has spent the last 24 years focused on conserving the prairie. During that time, Brennan rallied a mosaic of partners around the importance of small wetlands that decorate the region.

Brennan's management style was modeled after, Ralph Fries, his first manager at the Devil's Lake District when he was a seasonal biological technician. Brennan described Fries as "a very straight-forward, honest and fair person who you knew where he stood." Brennan goes on to say that Fries' decisions were always focused on "what was best for the resource." This resource focus directed Brennan's decisions as well.

With a passion for the open prairie and the wetlands that dot the landscape, Brennan carried on the legacy first charted by Grady Mann, the father of the Small Wetlands Program. This legacy also informed Brennan's career path. Thinking back to his first time meeting Mann, Brennan remembers a certain kinship and fervor for place. As Brennan recalls, "I met Grady in the spring of 1979 at J. Clark Salyer Refuge. He happened in there on a Saturday morning as he was touring places where he had worked. We talked for a good two or three hours about the prairie and wetlands and we just had a natural connection of similar philosophies."

Keystone to Brennan's conservation philosophy is his firm belief in education and the importance of fostering a sense of ownership in the greater community. As a testament to this, Brennan was instrumental in the establishment of the Friends of the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center, a steadfast group of concerned citizens who created the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center (PWLC) in 1994. Passionate about bettering the community, educating local youth and their families and spreading the mission of the USFWS, Brennan supported the PWLC from a fledging to the mature program it is today.

PWLC Instructional Systems Specialist David Ellis describes Brennan as "efficient, positive and professional" and goes on to say that, "For more than three decades Kevin Brennan has been a positive partner for the Service, community schools, children and land owners. Though he never says it, his life shows this personal attitude: 'make a difference where you are.' Because Kevin has followed this, West Central Minnesota has been a better place for wildlife and people."

Since Brennan joined the Fergus Falls WMD in the 1980s, the district has grown by 50 percent, adding 26,612 acres of habitat, including 8,800 acres of title land, 5,400 acres of wetland easements, and 2,131 acres of upland easements. In addition, 10,281 acres of privately owned wetlands and uplands were restored through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

When asked about the growth and success of the district, Brennan credits his staff, saying, "I've been very fortunate to have an awesome staff the whole time I've been here. This is a team effort!-The credit belongs to the many co-workers I have had the honor and privilege to work with."

Brennan is very thankful for the communities he has been able to work in. "There's a whole array of folks in Fergus Falls and the surrounding five-county area that we in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are fortunate to work with as partners," says Brennan. He goes on to say that, "We have such strong support from so many civic and conservation organizations and Fergus Falls - Elbow Lake - Alexandria - Pelican Rapids communities have a lot of people who support the conservation efforts of the Service. I just want to thank them all for being who they are and for doing what they do for our prairie wetlands."

One such group, the Fergus Falls Fish & Game Club, feels the same way about Brennan. Roger Rustad, an active member of the Club for more than 40 years, notes that even though the Club had "considerable interest in environmental education, it wasn't until Kevin Brennan moved to Fergus Falls that we saw our goals start to materialize." Rustad goes on to say that, "With Kevin's support and leadership, we were able to solve two of our major problems, a place to have the facility and the staff to run it. We are very thankful and appreciative for the efforts put forth by Kevin and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."