Former Scout offering haven

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
As a technician for Southwestern Bell for the past 30 years, Robert McVey has serviced a lot of calls.

But when McVey gets off work, he calls on the 250-acre plot of land he owns-which has been converted into a wildlife haven- without taking his cell phone and pager along.

“I don’t use a four-wheeler because I don’t like the noise, so I look at most of my ground on horseback,” McVey said. “It’s kind of a getaway from work to saddle up my horse and not have to deal with people.”

For his extensive and ongoing efforts to promote wildlife habitat, McVey and wife Sandra have been recognized as the 2005 winners of the Wildlife Award by the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks, the Kansas Bankers Association and Quail Unlimited.

McVey planted the seed for his wildlife habitat knowledge as an Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in Boy Scouts.

After high school, McVey attended Kansas State University, dreaming that his schooling there would shape his life’s passion for wildlife and eventually lead him to this award.

“I attended K-State and majored in wildlife and biology. Ironically enough, they told me 32 years ago that somebody would have to die or retire for me to get a job in that field, so I dropped out with a high B average,” McVey said. “It about killed my parents, but I went to work for Bell.

“I’ve told guys it’s ironic that 32 years ago I quit this degree and now I’m getting an award for it.”

McVey’s journey to southern Marion County took him from Newton to his 10-acre farm in 1975.

Combining his love for wildlife with his affinity to relate to students, McVey become a hunter education instructor in 1993 and a fur harvester instructor in 1994.

A 4-H project leader from 1996 through 2000, McVey’s team won the state competition for wildlife habitat evaluation in 1999 and placed in the top 10 nationally.

McVey’s first land purchase was an 80-acre tract in 1991 from Larry Blosser, who McVey said “most influenced my wildlife practices.”

Blosser in fact, won this same award on land currently owned by McVey.

“He’s the one who got me started thinking as far as what the land meant to me,” McVey said. “He told me I owned it and I have to be the caretaker.

“Larry thought outside the box a long time before anyone else,” he said. “He recognized farming techniques that were pushing wildlife out of the picture. He was way ahead of his time.”

The land was extensively developed with wildlife in mind.

McVey and his family helped Blosser plant chokecherry, green ash, mulberry, roughleaf dogwood, black walnut, bur oak and American plum trees.

“We helped Larry plant well over 400 trees,” McVey said. “Most of those trees were part of a riparian project.”

McVey eventually purchased an additional 95 acres in 1995 and added 80 more acres to the tract in 2001.

“This has been a work in progress,” McVey said. “Of the 250 acres, about 70 of it is either wasteland along Doyle Creek or developed for wildlife.”

The farm ground is managed by Newton farmer Tom Cowan, who McVey said “knew one of the clauses in his contract was that there would be wildlife and food plots.”

McVey said takes care of the wildlife plots and all the government paperwork associated with them.

“I’ve never had any money bequeathed to me and I bought it all myself, so I take sole responsibility,” McVey said. “But the bottom line is, I own this land.”

With an eye on quail and deer habitat in particular, McVey said he’s involved with the CP-31 project.

“This is designed for quail habitat so we planted a variety of forbes and grasses,” he said. “The government has done an excellent job with that. They’ve required farmers to go in and disk a third of it each year.

“That light discing reestablishes your forbes, but you still have a grass base.”

McVey said his Cowan and he work closely to manage the chemical usage around his habitat.

“We work well together,” he said. “I don’t want any chemical or pesticide drift and he’s really been good at that.”

About 9.5 acres of land was used for a riparian project designed “to keep the soil where it’s at and keep the pollution down in Doyle,” McVey said.

Grass filter strips were planted using big bluestem, sideoats grama, indiangrass and switchgrass.

Field borders were seeded with big bluestem, sideoats gramma, indiangrass, switchgrass, little bluestem, alfalfa, Illinois bundleflower, maximilian sunflower, purple prairieclover, showy partridgepea and upright prairie coneflower.

Edge-effect plantings are specifically designed to benefit the quail, McVey said.

“Quail are edge-effect animals and are very rarely found in the middle of things other than a pasture,” he said. “They typically like a hedge row or a real grassy fence row.

“They get their water from plants and not from a water source, so when you develop these edges, you enhance their capability,” he added. “They can move through these corridors to food plots and nesting locations fairly unobserved so the predators don’t bother them.”

Working with district conservationist Gary Schuler has added immense benefits and insights, McVey said.

“He’s been phenomenal, without a shadow of a doubt,” McVey said. “I worked with him extensively, especially when we were working on that wildlife habitat contest.

“What’s ironic is I gave the boys 95 acres to evaluate and see what they would do. We pooled all their ideas, and that’s about what I have on that ground right now. We developed it almost to a T.”

One of those team members was McVey’s son.

“He’s helped me develop this ground with brush piles, feeders and the clover we’ve planted,” he said. “So it’s been a labor of love, and this land will be going to my son, which I am thoroughly pleased with.”

McVey said some of his life’s most special moments have come when he’s on his habitat land.

“I really enjoy watching the birds,” he said. “I’ve limited my hunting, especially on quail, because I’d like to see them get a stronger foothold.”

Keeping his eyes and ears open, McVey said he’s always on the lookout for new ideas.

“The better I can develop for the species is the more that can be maintained for hunting,” he said. “What better thing to have those kids do than to be out in the field with a mentor or a parent, than some of the things they’re doing in the cities now.”

Winning this award gives him a genuine sense of satisfaction.

“I’m really liking what I have right now because it’s been a slow and gradual process over the last 10 years,” he said. “I don’t really regret anything I’ve done out here, so it makes me proud to win this award.”

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