US official praises grassland plan during South Dakota visitPIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A proposed federal project aimed at protecting habitat crucial to migratory waterfowl in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana represents a new era of conservation, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Friday.
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A proposed federal project aimed at protecting habitat crucial to migratory waterfowl in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana represents a new era of conservation, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Friday.
The Dakota Grassland Conservation Area would benefit wildlife, hunters, bird watchers and ranchers by protecting about 2 million acres of wetlands and grasslands through easements purchased from landowners, Salazar said. The federal government would not buy the land, so farmers and ranchers could continue to use it, he said.
“It’s important we’re doing that because we’re preserving a ranching heritage way of life, and at the same time what we’re doing is preserving these areas,” Salazar said during a telephone conversation with reporters. He also was visiting landowners in central South Dakota.
Mike Held, chief executive officer of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, said the organization opposes the program because it calls for perpetual easements. Conservation easements have merit, but they should be limited to 20 or 30 years, he said.
“We think that’s very anti-private property and almost precocious for an agency to think they could do easements that last one year longer than forever,” Held said. “We think a generation in length, 30 years, would be sufficient. Then let the next landowner, the next generation, make the decision whether they want to continue or not, based on the history of what the easement has been.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already has many easements in other programs in South Dakota that last only 20 or 30 years, so there is no need to use perpetual easements for the proposed new program, Held said.
The government would spend about $588 million in the next two or three decades to protect 2 million acres of habitat in an area that runs through the eastern half of the Dakotas, across the top of North Dakota and into northeastern Montana. It would seek to protect 1.7 million acres of grassland and 240,000 acres of wetland in the Prairie Pothole Region that is a prime breeding ground for ducks.
The easements would prevent land from being plowed or drained, but farmers and ranchers could use it for grazing or haying.
The proposed program would complement an existing federal project aimed at protecting wetlands. The new easements would be funded with money the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, which generates cash from oil and gas leases, excess motorboat fuel tax revenue and sales of surplus federal property.
Salazar said the Prairie Pothole region provides some of the best hunting and wildlife habitat in the nation, and the project would benefit hunters, wildlife watchers and people who work in jobs related to outdoor recreation. Ranchers would benefit because water and grass are also crucial to their livelihoods, he said.
The interior secretary said he believes the project can be done despite the nation’s budget problems.
“My hope is we’ll have money to be able to do this over a period of time,” Salazar said. “I don’t know how fast it will happen, but we already have the foundation under way.”
Steve Guertin, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the project area and individual easement purchases will be selected to provide the best nesting areas and other habitat necessary for wildlife reproduction.