Conservation group Pheasants Forever has new chief executive

Tony Kennedy, Star Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

The newly chosen chief executive of Pheasants Forever says she will strive to broaden the organization's membership base and diversify its funding sources as she takes over one of the nation's most successful wildlife habitat groups.

Marilyn Vetter of New Richmond, Wis., was announced Monday as the successor to Howard Vincent, the president and CEO who will soon retire after heading one of Minnesota's largest nonprofits since 2000. Vetter has been a member of Pheasants Forever's board of directors since 2015. She was one of 125 people around the country who vied for the job.

According to last year's Star Tribune listing of the state's highest-paid executives in the nonprofit realm, Vincent received $371,000 in compensation. When Vetter officially takes over Feb. 1, she will oversee a $100 million budget and a staff of 425 people, including government lobbyists and about 300 wildlife biologists.

"I don't anticipate coming in and making a lot of changes,'' said Vetter, a deeply experienced wingshooter who owns Sharp Shooter's Kennel with her husband, Clyde. They handle and train German short-haired pointers.

Aware that other wildlife habitat and conservation groups have suffered membership declines from the aging out of longtime hunters, Vetter said she stressed in her job interview that Pheasants Forever (PF) needs to attract more women and more hunting families who have young children. Women are the fastest-growing demographic group in PF, she said, and a 2022 report on overall hunting and shooting sports said female participation has grown from 16% a decade ago to 27% in 2021.

Vetter becomes the third person and first woman to lead PF in its 40-year history. Jeff Finden served in that role when the organization formed in 1982. It was founded by Star Tribune Outdoors columnist Dennis Anderson, along with friends and supporters. At the time, he was a columnist at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Anderson is not currently affiliated with the nonprofit.


Vetter said she will be taking over an organization that is remarkably healthy considering the fund-raising challenges brought on by COVID-19 and its related cancellations of local membership banquets.

Her job is to "keep air in the balloon,'' she said, and one of her goals is to build on the organization's corporate partnerships by making appeals to private-sector, social-responsibility funds. Also important to the future of PF is winning more support from other hunting and outdoors audiences that benefit from grassland habitat work.

Immediately this year, Vetter said, PF will be heavily focused on lobbying for conservation-related provisions in the federal Farm Bill, North American Grasslands Conservation Act and other legislation.

Vetter, 55, grew up as the youngest of seven children on a family farm near Anamoose, N.D. Her father didn't hunt, but the kids did. She obtained a communications degree from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and spent time early in her career as a political news reporter at KFYR Radio in Bismarck. She left journalism for jobs in strategic management, government affairs, marketing, and communications at Horizon Therapeutics, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, and Organon, Inc. She also served on the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce before moving to New Richmond 26 years ago.

For more than two decades, Vetter served on the executive council of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association.

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