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Working together for wildlife

Pheasants Forever's business for the last 25 years has been conservation.

This dedication to conservation has led to two new initiatives in the state of North Dakota that the group hopes will lead to greater habitat for wildlife in the region.

"In regards to the fact that we've taken such a hit in CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) acres, these are ways that we are adding acres back," Pheasants Forever public relations specialist Anthony Hauck said.

Working with the Game and Fish and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Pheasants Forever will be placing an employee at a North Dakota NRCS office to help with program signup.

The new employee, a biologist position, will help in implementing the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement Program, which comes to North Dakota this year.

SAFE is a new habitat program that will enroll croplands, wetlands, existing grass or expired CRP acreage into the CRP program.

"All the challenges that are going on right now with the loss of CRP, we're seeing a change in the whole CRP program," Game and Fish private lands program section leader Kevin Kading said. "And if we continue to see those losses, we want to do what we can to maintain that CRP acreage, this is one of the ways that we can do that."

In North Dakota, 27,000 acres are available for the SAFE program. Three specific priority areas will be target for the SAFE program in the state.

The majority of the 27,000, 20,000, will be set aside for the Coteau-Drift Prairie Waterbank SAFE project in the central portion of the state.

SAFE's Eastern North Dakota Tallgrass Prairie Restoration project, will receive 6,000 acres. The remaining 1,000 acres is set aside for sage grouse and other species that depend on short-grass sagebrush prairie habitat.

Continuous signup is a characteristic of the SAFE program Hauck said was particularly attractive.

"If there is acreage available you can signup anytime," Hauck said. "To cite the most recent example, in South Dakota 20,200 acres geared specifically for pheasants have been signed up and there have been a request for more acreage."

Hauck said the success of SAFE in South Dakota is partially attributable to the Pheasants Forever biologists placed at NRCS and county offices throughout the state. South Dakota has seven positions like the one North Dakota is currently interviewing for.

"It just gives people another person they can go to for conservation information," Kading said. "That's what Pheasants Forever did. They made people aware of it and told them to get signed up for it."

The Game and Fish said if landowners are interested they should contact they're local FSA office to see if their land is eligible. The Game and Fish Department will also provide up to 50 percent of the cost of grass seed and additional incentives will be provided by other partners such as Ducks Unlimited and the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust.

The North Dakota biologist will be an employee of Pheasants Forever, but will work out of the Jamestown NRCS office, funding for the position is being put together by the Game and Fish, the NRCS and Pheasants Forever.

"It's great support," Pheasants Forever North Dakota state representative Jesse Beckers said. "It really means a lot that the dollars are there to hire a guy through Pheasants Forever."

The biologist will be responsible for answering landowner questions regarding federal and county programs in the southeastern corner of the state.

"Anytime you can work with landowners and do something positive for wildlife that's a good thing," Hauck said. "We've certainly lost some acres, but that's no reason to throw in the towel."

An oversight steering committee will review the biologist's performance and give them guidance on which programs need attention.

"Obviously we want them to focus on areas that we will get the most benefit from," Kading said while pointing out the position will focus on federal programs, "They're still going to be able to refer people to us."

Kading added he thought there would be a possibility for more positions like the one in Jamestown if it proved as successful as in South Dakota.

Additional funding could come from the farm bill currently making its way through Congress. Particulars of the bill have not been hammered out, but Pheasants Forever and the Game and Fish, as well as other wildlife groups, are doing everything they can to make sure that conservation is not forgotten.

If conservation provisions provide that extra funding, Kading said he could see more biologist positions coming together.

"If this thing is a success and we can actually see some benefits out of it, there's a chance it could expand to more people," Kading said.

Without farm bill funding, more positions would need to be funded through outside sources, or through the pooling of resources like the initial position.

Pooling those resources is more important than ever according to Beckers, Hauck and Kading.

"I guess I can't say enough good things about the Game and Fish and the NRCS," Beckers said. "We all need to come together to keep conservation rolling...In spite of world pressures, conservation is still rolling."

"It's been the evolution of conservation that no one group or entity is going to do it alone," Hauck said. "That's how were going to get things done in this day in age."