South Dakota Hunting Trip Shows Fierce Challenges But Also Inspires

With 120 hours of use-or-lose leave staring me in the face, I decided weeks ago that after the election (and after my wife’s birthday on November 7), I’d head to South Dakota and take advantage of the precious non-resident waterfowl permit I managed to obtain this year.  I joined my friend and former FWS colleague Paul Schmidt, now Ducks Unlimited Chief Conservation Officer, for the hunt. Also joining us were South Dakota Partners for Fish and Wildlife Coordinator Kurt Forman and Region 6 PFW Coordinator Heather Johnson. For portions we were also joined by Madison Wetland Management District Heavy Equipment Operator Jim Bjorkman and South Dakota PFW Deputy Coordinator Boyd Schulz.  Jim and retired PFW legend Carl Madsen provided us with an outstanding game dinner, featuring walleye and waterfowl.  Great trip! 

 True or False:  I scored a double on widgeon, with one shot; Paul Schmidt can blind-retrieve with the very best of ‘em; Heather Johnson has nicknamed Kurt Forman “The Duck Whisperer”? Answer: all true. As with any time outdoors, the trip provided lots of great memories!

Service biologist releases black-footed ferret.

The Prairie Potholes in the Midwest are a key area for waterfowl. USFWS photo

It also provided some stark reminders of the challenges we face. I had the chance to see, firsthand, what is happening across the Prairie Pothole region. Everywhere we went, we saw native grassland being plowed and wetland potholes being tiled and drained. At one small basin, the scars from tiling were only days old and the cattails were being burned; the next day, we passed again and it was being plowed. Kurt Foreman, said, "Last year, there were over a thousand canvasbacks in that marsh."  Next year it will grow corn or soybeans instead.

We had the chance to hear an encouraging report on this year's work to protect wetlands and grasslands from Harris Hoistad, Project Leader from Sand Lake NWR and Wetland Management District. With the help of folks like Harris and his colleagues across the prairies, the Fish and Wildlife Service is leading, and our partners are joining. We can and are making a difference in the race to conserve wetland habitat in this vital region.  Just as we are in other areas of the nation.

More than anything, my experiences in South Dakota reinforced, for me, the wisdom of the vision we are pursuing:  Focusing on Strategic Habitat Conservation as a business model; establishing measurable biological outcomes as our shared objectives (read surrogate species); and building science capacity to understand, monitor and adapt to changes on the landscape.  As the challenges get fiercer, we will get better, and more capable.  We will be leaders.

I was inspired at the passion I saw among our employees in the prairies, and how they are working hand-in-hand: As they demonstrate every day, it takes everyone pulling together -- equipment operators to Partners biologists to refuge managers to budget and administrative officers -- to have a significant impact. They are dealing with the greatest of challenges. It would be easy to be frustrated and bitter, but they’re energetic and optimistic. They reflect the best in us all.  If they can do it, we all can do it. I’m fired up and ready to go!  I hope you are, too!!

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Last updated: August 31, 2011