Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Access To Hunting Land On Rise On Rise…

On Sunday the Sioux Falls Argus Leader ran this story about increased hunting access for public hunting in South Dakota. The premise of the article was public/private partnerships among the state and non-governmental organizations like Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited, as well as grassroots efforts but private citizens have given rise to this extraordinary use of South Dakota’s landscape. Hunting is a multi-million dollar industry in our state, with numbers growing each year on what both in-state and out-of-state residents spend on hunting and wildlife viewing each year.

Thanks to these partnerships and grassroots efforts, South Dakotans can now enjoy over 4 million acres of public hunting grounds. Currently, there is 1.2 million acres enrolled in South Dakota’s Walk-In Program through the Department of Game Fish and Parks… up substantially from a first-year enrollment in 1988 of 23,000. But recently with skyrocketing grain prices, farmers have taken land out of habitat preservation and put it back into production. Over 300,000 acres was lost in 2007, with several hundred thousand more on the docket for the next few years. This is important to the future of hunting in South Dakota because, “Basically our program (SD Walk-In Program) lives and dies with CRP,” as noted by senior wildlife biologist Bill Smith.

The federal Conservation Reserve Program is vital to long-term efforts to keep public hunting access, as well as the biodiversity of the South Dakota prairie intact. We should make every effort to encourage public/private partnerships, grassroots efforts, and financial compensation for preservation and/or usage of the state’s natural resources. These resources are imperative both to the state economy and our cultural heritage. Working together on these programs I believe there is no reason why this cannot be a win-win for our land hunting as the article suggests.

Our efforts should focus on the integration of usage… putting cattle on CRP land, possibly harvesting switchgrass and other biomass off the same land for use in making cellulosic ethanol, enrolling in the Walk-In Program. Integrating all these systems will allow our wildlife and natural habitat to stay intact, while farmers and ranchers earn income to support their families, and both in-state and out-of-state hunters can continue to use our beautiful South Dakota landscape to participate in traditional past times.

I agree with Rick Herrold, President of Pheasant Country LTD… “In order to hunt you need to have birds, and in order to have birds you need to have habitat.” Using this mentality, we should create a path in which we will all benefit from the natural resources of South Dakota.

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