Ranchers partner with Game, Fish & Parks for Habitat Development

Courtesy photosAfter a spring storm took out rancher Jim Johnson's stock dam, he worked with the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks to cost share the repair and restoration on his ranch near Quinn, SD. He and his wife, Jean, are pictured with the repaired 13-acre dam.

RAPID CITY, SD – Like most western South Dakota ranchers, Jim Johnson relies on his ranches’ dams to provide his cow/calf herd with an adequate water supply.

“Dams help spread out your grazing. When my dams are full my cows don’t have to travel as far to the water tanks,” said Johnson, 59, who ranches 13 miles north of Quinn, SD.

When a downpour took out a 13-acre dam on his ranch this spring he knew that unless he was able to cost share its repair, it would be a few years before he’d be able to spend the $9,300 to repair it. That’s when Dave Kimble with the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks (GF&P) stepped in to help.

“Most of our programs are geared toward agriculture producers and designed to have dual benefit for livestock production and wildlife habitat,” said Kimble, private lands habitat biologist for South Dakota GF&P.

Like most livestock dams, Johnson’s provided excellent habitat for waterfowl and shore birds – qualifying its reconstruction for one of the GF&P’s many Private Land Habitat Cost Share and Assistance programs. Once his dam was rebuilt, Johnson received $6,200 from GF&P to help cover expenses. He says working with GF&P was easy. Mike Mosher, a Bennett County cow/calf producer agrees.

“Dave Kimble was good to work with. I just wanted to know what strings were attached. If I cost shared, did I have to allow public access,” said Mosher, a second-generation rancher who worked with GF&P to cost share fencing supplies to enhance his pastureland. “There were no strings attached, as far as people coming onto my land unannounced. The contract just states that I need to ensure it wasn’t overgrazed and maintain the fence – pretty common sense practices.”

With 80 percent of all land in South Dakota under private ownership, Kimble says it only makes sense to partner with ranchers like Johnson and Mosher.

“Agriculture producers are stewards of most of the land in South Dakota. Many times the land has been in their family for 100 years or more. They have a strong incentive to care for it,” Kimble said. “We consider ranchers our partners in conservation and habitat development. They have close ties to the land and a strong appreciation for conservation and wildlife.”

Kimble says he and the other private lands habitat biologists work with producers to help them enhance their land – whether that be providing dollars for planting shelterbelts, seeding native grasses, improving grazing land by cost sharing fencing supplies and water distribution or a number of other landowner programs the GF&P has established to enhance private lands for wildlife habitat.

“No tax dollars are used by the GF&P to cost share habitat development projects. All the cost share dollars come from fees collected from hunting licenses,” said Mike Kintigh, South Dakota GF&P supervisor for the western third of South Dakota. “We are responsible for funneling hunter’s money back into private lands. Since hunters are giving back to private lands, there has to be a benefit to wildlife. Our programs are designed to be flexible – if a landowner has a need and it will benefit wildlife habitat they should talk with us.”

To learn more about the projects that qualify for the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Private Land Habitat Cost Share and Assistance program, visit the GF&P Web site, or contact your local habitat biologist : western South Dakota, David Kimble at 605-394-5232; central South Dakota, Tim Olson, 605-773-3658; eastern South Dakota, Rocco Murano, 605-353-3658; or Matt Grunig, 605-353-6699.