When Brad Bunker of Arlington, South
Dakota decided to purchase a 320-acre property in rural Brookings County, his intentions
were to plant the crop ground back to native grass and have another pasture for his cattle
and maybe an area for hunting. After a conversation with another local rancher, he
decided to take the ranchers advice and contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
for assistance. What Mr. Bunker found was a group of conservation organizations
willing and ready to assist him in restoring his property back to native tall grass
The first step in the process was to
enroll the cropland in the U.S. Department of Agricultures Conservation Reserve
Program (CRP). This program encourages landowners to plant native grasses and
provides a 50% cost share on the cost of native grass seed.
After being accepted into CRP, the next
step was to enroll in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Native Grassland and Wetland
Easement Programs. Mr. Bunker contacted the Madison Wetland Management District
(WMD), to see if his property would qualify for the easement programs.
At this time he was notified of a
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant the Madison WMD had recently been
awarded. Many local conservation groups around the area were concerned with the loss
of the native tall grass prairie in South Dakota and the affects this was having on the
nesting birds that rely on it. The Madison Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, The
Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited Inc., South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, Brookings
County Pheasant Restoration Association, and the Lake County Pro Pheasants all contributed
funds to match the money coming from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This
grant would allow the Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners to pay for the remaining
50% of the native grass seed cost.
The Bunker property qualified
for the Service easements with the understanding that the four wetlands on the property
would be restored.
The wetlands were surveyed and Mr.
Bunker was shown exactly how much water would be impounded. The Madison WMD did the
restoration work at no charge to Mr. Bunker.
Mr. Bunker said that this portion of
the easement made him a little nervous, but that after the work was completed and the
basins filled, the water levels were exactly what he was promised.
Now the only thing left was to plant
native grass. The problem was that it takes a special kind of drill to plant native
grasses. The Brookings County Conservation District just happened to have one of these
special drills. It had been purchased by grant funds from the Fish and Wildlife
Service, Ducks Unlimited and South Dakota Game Fish and Parks. These partners paid for
half of the drill and the Conservation District paid for the other half. Mr. Bunker
was able to rent the drill and plant the native grass.
This may sound like a lot of work and trouble just to
plant native grass, but according to Mr. Bunker it really wasnt that difficult, and
the financial benefits and technical support more than made up for any inconveniences.
In the past many of these programs and
partnerships did not exist, and projects likes these would most likely not have been
completed. With the help of these partnerships and programs, a small portion of one the
most fragmented ecosystems in North America was restored and perpetually protected.