A new initiative aims to help South Dakota landowners maintain wildlife habitat on their property. Habitat Pays is a joint venture between the state departments of Agriculture and Game Fish and Parks.
Habitat Pays is a result of the Governor’s 2013 Pheasant Habitat Summit. South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler says the idea is to build partnerships with those in the agriculture industry and show that the state can support both production ag and wildlife. Hepler says the habitat pays website features testimonials from landowners who found a balance between the two.
“You’ll see the conversation’s really between landowners,” Hepler says. “What we’re trying to find is those landowners talking to each other, trying to find things that work for them. It would be very difficult for me coming out of the department to go to landowners and say ‘this is what you really need to produce that family security need financially as well as produce wildlife habitat.’ So it’s much better if we get farmers talking to each other.”
Producers can also connect with habitat advisors.
“All these people are set up to help walk through all the various programs that agriculture can use to not only maybe protect, let’s say, grass, keep grass in production, some natural grass, and you can get some payment per acre for that,” Hepler says. “Or maybe we can actually show you how to maybe put in some grass and some different things along some streams and help the water retention. So the idea is to go out and get that habitat advisor, have that person come to your farm, sit right down with you, we can show you a map of your farm, and then we’re going to find the program that works for you.”
Hepler says the website also contains information about conservation programs. He says it’s important to improve habitat, because wildlife is part of our identity in South Dakota.
“I cannot imagine what it would be like in our state if you couldn’t wake up and maybe hear a rooster calling in the morning, or maybe hear a duck overhead, or maybe walk out and watch that deer feeding across your pasture, or maybe listen to the turkey call in the morning,” Hepler says. “Those are all things that resonate with us. They’re all part of why we’re on the land. And they fit so well in this picture we paint for us as a state.”
Hepler says wildlife is what sets the state apart, but it doesn’t exist without habitat.