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Quack If You Like Prairie Potholes: USFWS Wants to Preserve 1.94M Acres

Last updated on 2014.06.18

If you think the 48,000 acres proposed for the Tony Dean Cheyenne River National Grassland Wilderness is a big deal, check this out: Mr. Kurtz reads about an ambitious conservation project proposed by our friends at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. USFWS wants to create a Dakota Grassland Conservation Area that would preserve 240,000 acres of wetlands and 1.7 million acres of grassland in the Prairie Pothole region.

Map of proposed Dakota Grassland Conservation AreaThat isn't Florida! It's the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area
proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It's bigger than Florida.

Don't worry: USFWS isn't kicking us all out of East River. They plan to pay landowners not to tear up native prairie. USFWS estimates that over half of this untilled ground will be developed for farming or housing or some other use over the next 34 years. Such development would seriously degrade what USFWS calls "the backbone of North America's 'duck factory' and critical habitat for many wetland- and grassland-dependent migratory birds."

To protect this habitat, Fish & Wildlife would buy conservation easements. Landowners keep their property rights and control over public access. Farmers can still farm the wetlands during naturally dry years and graze and hay the grasslands. The land stays on the tax rolls, so local governments don't lose out on revenue. On the budget side, this federal spending appears deficit-neutral: the money comes primarily "from oil and gas leases on the outer continental shelf, excess motorboat fuel tax revenues, and sale of surplus Federal property."

USFWS is hosting three public meetings next week across the Prairie Pothole Region to talk about the plan and gets folks' input:

  • December 14, 2010: Minot, ND, 7 p.m-9 p.m., Sleep Inn Inn and Suites, 2400 10th Street SW
  • December 15, 2010: Jamestown, ND, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Gladstone Inn and Suites, 111 2nd Street NE
  • December 16, 2010: Huron, SD, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Crossroads Hotel, 100 4th Street SW

This grassland proposal looks like a good deal for all parties concerned, from budget hawks to ducks and geese. But Uncle Sam welcomes your two-cents' worth. If you can't make the meetings, you can submit comments by e-mail to planning team leader Nick Kaczor.


  1. Todd 2010.12.10

    Looks like another Federal land grab to me.

  2. caheidelberger 2010.12.10

    Read again: they're not grabbing it. They're paying farmers who sign voluntary easements. No eminent domain here, unlike the TransCanada pipelines.

  3. Todd 2010.12.10

    Yeah, its a choice and a mouse has a choice not to eat the cheese in the mousetrap. Lets hope SD landowners consider ALL the consequences of this, and read any fine print very carefully.

  4. caheidelberger 2010.12.10

    No. Bull, Todd (last name?). Read the post, read the info from USFWS. There is nothing that suggests any landowner will in any way be forced to sign an easement under this program. It is voluntary, plain and simple. Evidence to the contrary is welcome.

  5. larry kurtz 2010.12.10

    This is about critical habitat. Duck stamps are part of the history. Expect support from a broad coalition.

  6. John Kelley 2010.12.11

    South Dakota and local rural communities should embrace this with open arms as it infuses dollars into rural communities and provides infrastructure for supporting the pheasant hunting industry (nesting and winter cover) as well.

  7. Todd Gray 2010.12.13

    I know it is voluntary, so is taking the cheese from a mouse trap. I'm just saying landowners should be careful if they are signing one of those "forever" contracts.

  8. caheidelberger 2010.12.13

    Mr. Gray (thank you for the name!), stop trying to hint this is some big bad government trick. It's a business arrangement. Like any other contract, yes, you should pay attention to the conditions so you know exactly what you are expected to do to fulfill your side of the bargain. But I'm with Mr. Kelley: this plan is good for everyone. It's market-based environmentalism at its best.

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