Reaching Out to Ranchers
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Cattle and ducks need the same things for a healthy existence—water and grass. Ducks Unlimited believes that makes for a natural partnership between DU and ranchers.
"We have the same basic interest—keeping grass and water on the landscape," says Randy Meidinger, DU's manager of conservation programs in South Dakota. "If we want to retain that grass and water in South Dakota, we must reach out to the people who own and manage the bulk of the native prairie."
South Dakota is located in the heart of the Duck Factory and is home to some of the continent's largest blocks of contiguous native prairie. To date, DU has spent more than $27 million in this state, conserving nearly 400,000 acres.
This past year DU restored a property near Woonsocket, providing essential waterfowl breeding and migration habitat. DU seeded 100 acres of former cropland to grass, restored six wetlands, and controlled noxious weeds before selling the land to the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Department, which will keep the property open for public hunting.
The bulk of DU's dollars in South Dakota go to purchasing conservation easements from ranchers and other landowners, protecting prairie in the best-of-the-best waterfowl breeding grounds. Grassland, however, is being converted to cropland faster than DU can secure it. Jim Ringelman, DU's director of conservation programs in the Dakotas and Montana, hopes more cattle producers will join the fight to save grass and water.
"We've offered ranchers programs like grazing systems and conservation easements, but we must do more to develop programs to fit their needs," Ringelman says. "We're looking for ways we can help them be successful. If producers continue raising cattle, that grass will continue providing nesting habitat for ducks."