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Partnerships Pay Off!
Brad Bunker Native Grassland and Wetland Restoration

Composite photos taken by Brad Bunker

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 rancher’s 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 prairie.

The first step in the process was to enroll the cropland in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 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.

Wetland restoration photosThe 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. 

Aerial view of Mr. Bunker's restored wetlands and native grass plantingsThis may sound like a lot of work and trouble just to plant native grass, but according to Mr. Bunker it really wasn’t 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.


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