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Just ask Phil Hassinger, an environmentally conscious Union County farmer.
Hassinger is using American kestrels to help him grow 200 acres of mint and peppermint, thanks to a major assist from La Grande Boy Scout Clancy Strand.
For his Eagle project, Strand has built and installed 18 American kestrel nest boxes on a farm owned by Hassinger. The 20-foot-high platforms are increasing the number of kestrels on Hassinger’s land. The birds, a farmer’s best friend, eat mice and voles — rodents that destroy crops by burrowing through them.
Mice and voles have been particularly hard on Hassinger’s mint and peppermint crops in recent years. The problem had become so bad that Hassinger was considering not growing mint and peppermint in the future.
The American kestrel is considered one of the most colorful raptors in the world. - Photo/U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
Not any more. Not after he has observed how effective kestrels are at hunting mice and voles.
“I’ve seen many eat two or three mice and voles a day. They really make a difference (in reducing rodent populations),’’ Hassinger said.
Monitoring American kestrels is easy on Hassinger’s farm because the nest boxes are so easy to see. The boxes are spaced about a quarter mile apart over much of Hassinger’s 1,000-acre farm, which is eight miles northwest of Cove and managed by his son, Seth. One can stand along any part of the portion of Catherine Creek flowing through much of Hassinger’s farm and see at least one nest box.
Strand, a member of Troop 521, put up his nest boxes in April. He did so with the help of his brother, Tucker, Phil Hassinger and members Troop 521. Hassinger credits Strand with doing excellent work in leading the nest box project.
Phil Hassinger examines one of the 18 American kestrel nest boxes Boy Scout Clancy Strand made for his farm. - The Observer/DICK MASON
“It was well organized, and a good example of teamwork. He really did the job,’’ Hassinger said.
Close to 40 American kestrel boxes are now up on the Union County farm, the ones Strand made plus a number Hassinger added.
The kestrels on Hassinger’s farm can be spotted not only on the nest boxes but also on power lines. The kestrels are easy to recognize on power lines from a distance because their tails bop up and down, Hassinger said.
He never tires of observing kestrels.
“They are a beautiful bird. They are acrobatic and fun to watch,’’ the Union County farmer said.
American kestrels are known for their ability to hover. Hassinger says they appear to stop 10 to 20 feet off the ground and remain in place while searching for mice and voles.
Hassinger said that if not for Strand’s help, the only way he could have continued growing mint and peppermint would have been to apply chemicals to reduce his mice and vole population, something he would not like to have done.
Strand, a senior at La Grande High School and a member of Troop 521, is the son of Lisa and Scott Strand.
The Boys Scout’s sponsors included the National Conservation Security Program and the Riparian Conservation Project.