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Vergas 'CSI guy' solves conservation dilemmas

A CSI guy planting trees?

What might, at first, look like a mystery to some, becomes a little clearer as you approach the man sporting the "CSI" jacket.

Look close and you'll discover he's not exactly a crime scene investigator, but the owner of a cleverly named business: "Conservation Specialists, Inc."

DuWayne Ditterich has discovered that his business' familiar acronym draws a special interest from locals--many of whom have inquired about how they can get some of their own "CSI" apparel. While the business name brings in some entertaining attention, a simple conversation with Ditterich is enough to assess that he's about way more than just fun names.

He's a man who knows his stuff. As the owner of one of a rare breed of "full service" conservation companies, Ditterich estimates that there are probably only 4 or 5 other businesses doing what he's doing in the whole state of Minnesota.

Instead of limiting himself to one specialized area, Ditterich will take on the whole gamut of wildlife habitat and conservation plan work. From planting native grasses and wildflowers to heavy duty rototilling to planting groves of trees, Ditterich has the knowledge and equipment to get the job done.

"I call what I do 'large scale scaping,' as opposed to 'landscaping,'" explains Ditterich. "I generally look at planting 200-300 to thousands of trees; not 10 trees around your house. What I do is more conservation orientated."

"In general, I plant 30,000 to 50,000 trees a year," Ditterich reports. This is in addition to the 300-500 acres of native grasses he plants and the 150,000 feet of tree fabric he works with.

With all of that work, and a limited number of warm months for planting in Minnesota, Ditterich hires several seasonal employees to help him in the spring. His dad also helps out with the conservation work. Ditterich sees his winters as a "planning season" when he works with clients to help them develop a conservation plan for their land.

Developing a conservation plan involves first sitting down with a land owner to figure out what the plans for the property are. Ditterich then uses aerial photography (such as Google Earth) to look at the landscape to see what would work and where it would work on their parcel of land.

Items such as a food plot, native grasses, wildflowers, or tree planting are then discussed as component of the individualized conservation plan. Ditterich also helps to inform clients about the programs available to help fund such projects.

"Ninety-five percent of my clients are program-based," Ditterich notes. Clients can utilize the Conservation Reserve Program or Wildlife Incentives Habitat Program, different state cost shares. He then works with clients to help them fill out the paperwork necessary for the programs.

In order to get the job done right, Ditterich uses a lot of specialized equipment, including a tree planter, rototiller, and tree fabric machine. He also uses a lot of standard farming equipment.

Ditterich has worked on conservation plans for farms in Butler, Richville, Vergas, and Perham--mostly working with people who own big tracts of land and are interested in developing food plots for wild animals or planting more trees on their property.

"I love being outside and working outside," Ditterich says. "I love hunting. I like working with farm owners and land owners and helping them to develop their habitat."

His love for the outdoors goes back to his childhood when Ditterich first started working on farms. He says he always had an interest in hunting and watching what the birds and animals liked to utilize.

Ditterich went on to study agriculture at North Dakota State University and was hired in 1994 by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services. While working for the NRCS, he learned much of the knowledge he uses today.

He went into the private sector in 2003, and has been doing work in the area since 2004. Ditterich says he enjoys the flexibility of hours with operating a private company, and can work weekends when necessary to help finish a job.

Even though he grew up in the Pelican Rapids area, Ditterich says he knew at a young age that he wanted to someday live on his grandfather's farm in Vergas. Today, that dream has become a reality as he, his wife Jennifer, and their two sons now live on the Vergas family farm. Ditterich operates his business out of the farm.

He works closely with the Minnesota DNR and the East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District on projects and utilizes USDA programs. In addition to developing wildlife habitats and conservation plans, Ditterich also does a lot of weed control. He does Conservation Reserve Program mowing and has a commercial applicators license.

Another service offered is lake scaping. For example, Ditterich frequently plants cherries for lake people who want lots of birds on their property. Likewise, Ditterich knows to use oak, hazelnut, and crabapple trees to draw deer and turkeys.

For Ditterich, the most rewarding part of his job doesn't usually come until a few years after a project is completed. He describes the satisfaction of going back to a section of land five years down the road and seeing the trees and habitats developing.

"I like working with land owners who are even more excited than me that the project is completed," he says.