Project to create 25,000 acres of habitat & access
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks to help create new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) acres in the Big Sioux River Watershed along the state’s eastern border.
The Big Sioux River Watershed CREP initiative hopes to create 25,000 acres of permanent vegetative cover by opening 250, 40-acre blocks of land to public hunting — with the end goal of producing an additional 71,250 pheasants and 15,000 ducks annually.
“We think it’s a big win for both producers and the public,” said Matt Morlock, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s South Dakota state coordinator. “Producers will get compensated well for moving environmentally-sensitive, low-production land into different usages, and we’ll get to create new habitat for the public to enjoy along the I-29 corridor, where close to 40 percent of our state's population resides.”
CREP is part of the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a federally funded voluntary effort that contracts with agricultural producers to implement habitat on private lands. Through CREP, high-priority conservation goals are identified by the state, and then federal funds are used alongside non-federal match to achieve those specific goals. Participants enroll in CREP for 10 to 15-year contracts, protecting sensitive cropland and marginal pastureland through native grasses, wetlands and other vegetation.
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever staff in South Dakota will help implement the new program, which hopes to have a big impact on the 3.8-million-acre watershed. Hundreds of bodies of water make their way to the Big Sioux River, and planting native vegetation along the edges of these waterways will help reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients that enter the river. These buffer zones serve the dual purpose of protecting the health of the Big Sioux River and providing quality habitat for pheasants, waterfowl and other game and non-game species.
The project is largely based on the James River Watershed CREP program, which has been active since 2009. The James River lies west of the Big Sioux — the two run nearly parallel to one another until spilling into the Missouri in the Southeast corner of the state. In the 13 years since its creation, The James River CREP has created nearly 80,000 acres of habitat and significantly improved breeding habitat for pheasants and waterfowl in the area.
“The CREP program has been highly successful at utilizing partnerships with private land owners to produce top notch habitat,” said Jared Wiklund, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s public relations manager. “This new initiative will continue that trend, opening up great public hunting opportunities in an area of the state where public access has been somewhat limited.”