Farmer, physician, soldier donates land for wildlife
Southeast Russell County, Kan., around the township of Dubuque, is a part of the world where arid short grass and lush tall grass meet.
It's this little piece of paradise where the Dubuque Land & Cattle Co. operates and where Wallace Weber, M.D., resides. Along with his sister, Cheryl of Topeka, Kan., Weber last December donated the 1,700-acre operation to Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, the largest single land donation in the organizations' 26-year history.
The land includes two full sections, a half section, a quarter section and an additional 80 acres. The first half section was transferred to PF/QF in December 2008. Upon Dr. Weber's death, the land will be accompanied by a charitable remainder trust for management expenses with the entirety of donation completed upon Dr. Weber's death. All told, the Weber donation is expected to be valued at well over $1 million.
Weber's desire to see his 1,700 acres stay together and managed as a wildlife habitat demonstration unit are factors in his decision to make PF/QF the recipient of his gift.
"This donation is not about dollars or acres," Weber said. "I've made this gift to Pheasants Forever because we share a common mission and dream of turning this land into a living unit that will inspire others to manage for wildlife in harmony with sustainable agriculture."
"More than me"
Weber acknowledges not only his family, but also the greater Dubuque community's part in helping create the opportunity for him to be able to do this.
"I owe so many people for this place. It's not me. It's my parents," Weber said. "This has always been Weber land. We've applied to be a Century Farm. My dad took it over in 1942. They took it from debt, bought a John Deere Model A two-bottom plow and had a relative help them buy 13 Hereford bulls. They were able to develop their enterprise. From there, they educated my sister and I to graduate degrees.
"It's also people in the community offering to sell to me. These are gifts. So, I have to be an ambassador, in a way, to not scare the neighbors with what I'm doing. One of the things I intend on doing is creating some demonstrations to show people what they can do and still make money in farming."
Weber plans to enlist the help of two consultants who are writing business plan proposals for him.
"I told the consultants to think post-CRP and give me a plan that will optimize my cash flow for the least input," Weber said. "I also have a wildlife consultant helping me to optimize wildlife on the place. That means pheasant, quail, duck, prairie chicken and maybe squirrels, jackrabbits and wild turkeys for fun. We all want to look at what rotations would you add, and would you stop cropping in favor of just raising grass. I want all these things to come together.
"Then, I've brought together sort of an advisory team. I have my consulting agronomist, a range person, a wildlife specialist, an Extension specialist, another 'wise guy,' and then my sister and me. We'll all go from there on how to make this work."
A life of service
It's not that Weber wasn't successful before. Now living in the home he grew up in, Weber retired as an U.S. Army colonel, with 31 years of total service and over nine years of active duty. This includes service as a flight surgeon in dermatology with the Assault Battalion of the 82nd Aviation Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division during foreign combat functions of Operation Desert Storm, admitting to "maybe having a touch of Gulf War syndrome," suffering most, ironically, from skin problems.
Following active duty, Weber founded Heartland Dermatology Center in Hays in 1977 and continued as a board certified practitioner of dermatology, dermatopathology, and dermatologic surgery in central and northwest Kansas until selling the practice in 2005.
Since his retirement from medicine, Weber has returned to the life of outdoorsmanship he enjoyed as a boy while moving into full-time farming and ranching on his property.
"I'm working harder now than I ever did," Weber said. "I enjoyed the Army. There is good and bad in it, but overall I enjoyed it. I served as a troop commander to 400 soldiers in a field hospital. While I was an ROTC cadet, I fired the main gun on an M-60 tank. I've done helicopter assaults. I did pretty much what I wanted to do in the service.
"I loved medicine. I brought a lot of good techniques to help people in western Kansas that was important. I brought the most current and best treatment for asthma at the time and brought Mohs surgery to Kansas.
"Now I stop and think I'm doing something groundbreaking in regards to develop new conservation practices on this land. Perhaps what I'm doing here may be too groundbreaking, but there is so much science here to be excited and challenged about. There's soil science, plant biology, meteorology, ballistics, animal behaviorism. A host of things."
Lots left to do
There's a lot for Weber to work on throughout the next few years. While showing how conservation and agricultural profitability can be demonstrated, along the way there are improvements to make in increasing the already prosperous population of pheasant on the property, while trying to increase the quail population along the way.
A creek runs through the property and there are also three ponds used by migrating waterfowl and stocked with fish. PF/QF will begin managing the land immediately to be a demonstration unit. In time, PF envisions hosting conservation and habitat field days to illustrate best management practices on the property, becoming a destination for natural resource agency tours, chapter events and youth field trips.
"There's this thing we all talk about called lasting values. This is a way to demonstrate that," Weber said.
The idea of making the donation first came to the Webers after reading about the gift of 320 acres of Nebraska land to PF/QF by the family of Bill Baxter, Sr., a Nebraska Game & Parks Commission biologist, who passed away in February of 2007. The Baxters' story appeared last year in the Pheasants Forever Journal of Upland Conservation and in the Pheasants Forever eNewsletter, On The Wing.
"I read about the Baxters and I realized Pheasants Forever could help me achieve the dreams I had for turning this property into a legacy for others. I reminisced being a 13-year-old kid again who lived to hunt, trap, and fish on this ground. I believe this land can turn similar memories into reality for other youngsters for decades, for forever," Weber said.
"Meanwhile, I've got a lot of things I still want to do. I want to shoot a squirrel on my land. I want to bag a quail and a turkey. I want to become a member of the St. Hubertus Society for shooting game with a German-made firearm."
More importantly, Weber wants to use the land for private hunting. He said he thinks people will pay good money to visit and hunt on a Pheasants Forever place.
"Here, values are demonstrated. We like pheasants. They like us," Weber said. "Right now, though, I'm just trying to get to understand how my relationships with hunters will work. I'm still feeling out the idea of asking people for money to come onto the land to hunt."
Hunting for the ask
Seeking a fee for hunting has made Weber recall his early days of his medical practice, when one of the hardest things he said he ever had to do in his life was the first time he had to ask one of his patients to pay her bill. It was for $20 for an office visit.
"Earlier this year, right at the end of the season, I had a couple stop and ask if they could hunt," Weber said. "I said, sure, and asked them for $10 and they could take one bird. They had great dogs with them and they got their birds with one shot.
"It got me to thinking what kind of hunting I want here. I want this primarily for youth hunting. I also want this for quality hunts.
"If you want to hunt here, you'll have to show me a sporting clays card that shows you're a competent shooter or--on my trap--you have to break three out of five targets. I live around my pheasants. I don't anyone to be cruel to my pheasants. So I want people who are capable of getting a good kill.
The limit: One pheasant or four shots.
"This is will be beautiful, quality hunting. It will be short term, but quality," Weber said. "I'll give you a cup of coffee or maybe fix your lunch afterward and you can enjoy the beauty of the land just like I do.
Upon Weber's death, PF intends to open the property to public hunting.
"On my gravestone," Weber said, "there will be three words: Farmer. Physician. Soldier. They are all intertwined. The farm gave me my start. The Army added duty, honor, country. Medicine paid the bills. Everything that has made me what I am is again here on this land. As long as I'm enjoying what I do to continue to improve this land, I'll continue to work on it."
Weber's donation was made through PF's first-ever national fund-raising effort, the Grassroots Conservation Campaign. To learn more about making a charitable donation to Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, contact PF/QF's vice president of development, David Bue, at 218-340-5519 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
"I look at this as being like a teacher," Weber said. "Good teachers want their students to out-achieve them. If I can get someone to give more land to Pheasants Forever, then that's great."
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.