Goebel Ranch and DU holdings

DU Landholdings in South Dakota

By Randy Meidinger
Manager of Conservation Programs - South Dakota Land Management

Ducks Unlimited's Goebel Ranch in South Dakota is a successful example of what a large expanse of native prairie can do for ducks, cattle and people. The 9,455-acre working ranch is a breeding duck's paradise, with wetlands surrounded by lush grasslands. In 2011, DU sold 7,300 acres of the ranch and will reinvest the funds in the revolving land program.

In 2000, DU purchased the Goebel Ranch from willing sellers, then restored and protected the property with permanent easements that prevent wetlands and grasslands from future drainage and tillage. Unlike funding for traditional DU projects, all of the dollars used to acquire properties are obtained from gifts specified for land purchase. Additionally, dollars generated from each land sale are then used to purchase other threatened waterfowl habitat critical to DU's mission.

Five ranchers who previously leased the property for grazing have individually purchased parcels of the Goebel Ranch totaling 7,300 acres. DU will still own approximately 2,200 acres of the ranch in McPherson County and allow public access and hunting on the property. DU will also maintain access to sites dedicated to DU sponsors on this parcel.

Most parcels of land owned by DU are open to the public for hunting access while under DU ownership. Hundreds of hunters from South Dakota and many other states enjoy the opportunity to recreate on DU properties. Recreational opportunities on DU-owned properties may range from a misty morning duck hunt on a secluded pond, to an afternoon walk through a cattail marsh for pheasants, to a carefully planned evening stalk of a bedded white-tailed buck, or a casual hike across the hills of the prairie in pursuit of the elusive sharp-tailed grouse. Accessibility to DU properties is subject to change. Once DU sells a property, access to the land will be at the discretion of the new landowner. DU does not reserve special hunting or other privileges.

DU will continue fall duck banding operations on Goebel Ranch to help understand where the ducks raised here are spending their winters, and what routes they are taking to get there. DU also negotiated a 20 year research access agreement with the current landowners to continue duck banding and waterfowl habitat research. Biologists have banded more than 25,000 ducks at Goebel, more than 1,700 of which have been recovered. Recoveries have come from all four flyways, including 31 states, four Canadian provinces, four Caribbean countries and eight Central and South American countries. The data retrieved from this banding effort exemplifies the national and international importance to waterfowl of the Goebel Ranch and all of the remaining prairie grasslands in the Dakotas. Goebel Duck Banding totals (2008, PDF)

While under DU ownership, the various tracts of land are managed to benefit waterfowl, including restoring drained wetlands and reseeding grassland that was formerly cropland. DU land managers use a combination of biological, chemical and mechanical methods to control weeds and maintain healthy native prairie plant and wildlife populations.

DU manages its properties with a balanced approach of rotational grazing, haying, season-long idling of the land and prescribed burning. The local ranchers who rent DU-owned land follow DU's management guidelines to ensure healthy and favorable habitat conditions for waterfowl and livestock production. Any haying activities are not conducted until late July or August, after the primary waterfowl nesting season.
Resting, or idling, of land is a beneficial practice used to manage grassland acres. Resting land promotes a healthy ecosystem by allowing the flora and fauna to complete an entire annual cycle without any major disturbance. However, allowing grasslands to remain idle for a prolonged period of time actually contributes to a decline in the health and productivity of these diverse communities. Ducks and other plant and animal species evolved with habitat disturbance on the prairie, be it from immense herds of nomadic grazing bison, or from wildfires that raced across the vast prairie grasslands. These natural disturbances rejuvenated grasslands and helped maintain the health and balance of the prairie ecosystem. Prescribed burns are another land management tool DU uses to improve and maintain many acres of native grasslands in DU ownership.

For more information about DU's revolving land program or about access to DU lands, please contact Randy Meidinger at rmeidinger@ducks.org or 605-439-3329.