Revolving Land Strategy Protects Native Prairie

Proceeds from the sale of part of DU's Goebel Ranch in South Dakota are being reinvested to conserve more native prairie nesting habitat for waterfowl. DU recently sold the parcels—totaling 7,300 acres—to five ranchers who had been leasing the property for grazing. 

Under its revolving land strategy, DU purchases land, protects it with conservation easements, and then sells it to a local rancher or other conservation buyer. DU then reinvests the proceeds from the sale into protecting more land. 

Although land in South Dakota is prohibitively expensive right now, DU has purchased one Montana property and is working on five more purchases of grassland and wetlands in that state. 

"We want to purchase remnant tracks of the best-of-the-best Montana habitat that are at high risk of being converted to cropland," said Bob Sanders, DU's manager of conservation programs in Montana. "Short-grass prairie with seasonal wetlands, like we have in Montana, is one of the most important nesting habitats for pintails, which are a species of concern for DU. Protecting these landscapes will make a significant difference in pintail numbers in this area." 

According to Sanders, many of the parcels under consideration for purchase include both native prairie and expiring Conservation Reserve Program tracts that landowners have not been able to re-enroll in the program. "That land is especially at risk for conversion because the soil has been previously plowed and cleared of rocks," he said. 

DU still owns approximately 2,200 acres of the Goebel Ranch in McPherson County. This allows DU to maintain access to sites dedicated to DU Major Sponsors and to allow public access for hunting and other recreation. 

"We continue to look for land opportunities in South Dakota," said Dr. Steve Adair, DU's director of operations in the Great Plains region, "but most land is being sold at auction and going above its appraised value, which is limiting our success in purchasing at-risk grassland."