Special Report: Grassroots Voices Produce Real Conservation Funding

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A 5-state update on conservation funding initiatives that, thanks to your voice behind them, make a real difference for upland habitat and public access in the core of the pheasant range

Your grassroots voice has a huge impact on increasing state appropriations to accelerate upland habitat programs. But our work is not done. The examples following are a testament to vision, perseverance and the ongoing need for advocacy in St. Paul, Pierre, DesMoines, Madison and Bismarck.

Please take the time to speak with your elected state representative and senator to share your personal story of why conservation is important. The success for conservation’s future starts with your advocacy today.
 

Minnesota

By Eran Sandquist, Minnesota State Coordinator 

A 10-year grassroots legislative effort that included countless hearings, testimonies, conversations, letters and emails by passionate Pheasants Forever volunteers and members along with the Minnesota conservation community ultimately led to the 2008 passage of the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment.
 
Overwhelmingly approved by Minnesota voters, this constitutionally dedicated funding generates over 3/8 of one percent of sales tax revenue — approximately $300 million annually — for fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, parks and trails, and the arts.
  
Here’s a sample of some tremendous partnership programs that have been accelerated or created because of PF members’ involvement:
 
Accelerated Minnesota Public Lands: 27,914 acres
Sharp-tailed Grouse Habitat Partnership: 7,375 acres
Prairie Chicken Habitat Partnership of the Southern Red River Valley: 3,021 acres  
Enhanced Public Lands: 14,468 acres

If you use public land in Minnesota, chances are good you have enjoyed a Wildlife Management Area or Waterfowl Production Area that was created or improved by one of these Pheasants Forever partnership programs. Core partners include Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society and the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society. To date, these partnerships have collectively protected, restored, or enhanced 72,000 acres across Minnesota that is managed for wildlife habitat and is open to the public forever. 

Stack on the additional benefits of this work to pollinators, reduced soil erosion, improved water quality and carbon sequestration, and you have meaningful partnerships benefitting all Minnesotans.
 

South Dakota

By Matt Morlock, South Dakota State Coordinator

The 2020 South Dakota legislative session resulted in a big win for sportsmen and women that like to chase roosters each fall in the Pheasant Capital. Senate Bill 75, known as the Habitat Stamp was passed with great support from both political parties. 

Introduced by Senator V.J. Smith of Brookings, SB75 creates a statewide habitat stamp that is mandatory with any South Dakota hunting or fishing license. The stamp, costing $10 for residents and $25 for nonresidents, will result in approximately $3 million dollars annually.

Money can only be utilized for habitat improvement projects on existing Game Production Areas (food plots, shelterbelts, and improved nesting cover), or securing hunter access to private lands through the very successful Walk In Access program. Several projects were already completed during summer 2020.This legislation will impact South Dakota’s hunting tradition for many years to come.
 

Iowa

By Jamie Cook, Iowa State Coordinator

A decade after 63 percent of Iowans voted to support the creation of Iowa’s Water & Land Legacy amendment, the state legislature came as close as it has in 10 years to passing a bill in 2020 that would have allocated an estimated $171 million in sustainable, constitutionally protected funding for conservation. 

Thanks to the leadership and commitment by Governor Kim Reynolds, her Invest in Iowa Act would have directed those funds to address the current challenges facing Iowa’s land, water and wildlife by improving water quality efforts, outdoor recreation and conservation.

In January 2020 Governor Reynolds stated, “Let’s be bold and visionary. Let’s seize this opportunity and make the next decade Iowa’s best. It’s time to show the world that opportunity lives here.”

When passed, the new dollars would greatly accelerate conservation delivery by providing additional dollars to agencies like the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Department of Natural Resources — two key partners for PF/QF in Iowa. This funding would increase the number of land acquisitions from willing sellers annually; and provide tremendous opportunity for Iowa’s Habitat and Access Program. Hunting in particular stands to benefit from this historic piece of legislation, as would improvements to sustainable agriculture by growing in-field and edge-of-field practices such as cover crops, prairie buffers and wetland restorations thru CREP.

Iowa PF members, please continue to be vigilant of the Invest in Iowa Act or its 2021 version when the legislature convenes on January 11, 2021.

Wisconsin

By Marty Moses, Wiscosin State Coordinator

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is a Wisconsin state-legislated program created in 1989 to preserve natural areas and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation. 

Through this program, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) awards funds to local governments and nonprofit conservation organizations. These funds are matched with other federal, local and private dollars to purchase land and easements for conservation and support the upkeep and maintenance of Wisconsin’s wildlife areas, waterways, parks, forests and trail systems. To date, more than 600,000 acres have been protected. Pheasants Forever in Wisconsin has been able to acquire over 1,200 acres across 8 properties, all of which have been donated to either state or federal agencies for management.
 
The program’s current authorization is set to expire in 2022, which means the 2021 state budget is our crunch time. Your conservation voice will be critical. We are already partnering with other conservation organizations to make our support for the program known. Be on the lookout for calls to action.
 

North Dakota

By Rachel Bush

Established in 2013, the Outdoor Heritage Fund receives funds derived from state oil and gas tax revenue, and supports North Dakota’s cherished outdoor traditions. Since inception the Outdoor Heritage Fund has received $57,075,957 in funds available to eligible applicants, and awarded $47,306,829 through 16 grant rounds to 168 projects across North Dakota. 

Pheasants Forever has sponsored five successful proposals that resulted in $1,442,213 in grant funds. These projects have helped deliver 514 acres of pollinator habitat, 1,153 acres of nesting cover, 541 acres of cover crops, enhanced 4,882 acres of native grassland and impacted 295 kids through youth pollinator events. These funds have allowed Pheasants Forever to develop state-specific programs that create and enhance habitat, engage more community members and preserve outdoor heritage.