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Pheasants Forever adding funding for habitat

(Submitted photo)

MITCHELL, S.D. — Zero. Nothing. Zilch.

That's how many Walk-In Area acres of public hunting land are enrolled in Davison County.

But a new initiative headed up by the local Pheasants Forever chapter is hoping to change that.

On Tuesday night, Dec. 12, Pheasant Country — the Mitchell-area chapter of Pheasants Forever — announced its decision to earmark $150,000 to go toward a new community-based habitat access program, which further incentivizes landowners to enroll their property into public hunting.

"We need some improvement, that's for sure," said Dave Allen, president of Pheasant Country.

The meeting, held at The Depot Pub & Grille in Mitchell, outlined the plan to put forth funding to expand local Walk-In Area acreage within 40 miles of Mitchell.

The additional acreage provides more habitat for pheasants and wildlife, which in turn can bring more nonresident hunters into the area to boost the local economy.

That's where the community-based effort comes in. Pheasant County and Pheasants Forever, the national nonprofit organization, hopes local businesses and individuals contribute funding as well.

"Obviously pheasant hunting is such an economic driver in our communities," said Mike Stephenson, South Dakota regional representative for Pheasants Forever. "The towns have gotten a lot from all the nonresidents coming into their communities. So we're hoping they give back, so these businesses can continue to thrive."

The idea follows the work of the Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition, a first-of-its-kind group in South Dakota. Beginning in January 2016, the Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition, made up of local businesses and organizations, began working to raise $100,000 to be used to provide a sign-up incentive for landowners enrolling into the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and also in the state Walk-In Area program, which accounts for 1.2 million acres of statewide public hunting.

The Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition has helped add 14 Walk-In Areas in Brown County for a total of 1,464 new acres since its start. Its initial pledge for its coalition was $50,000.

After seeing the success of Aberdeen's group, Allen and Pheasant Country are following suit. The initiative has been in the works for about a year, Allen said.

"We had them come down for a couple meetings and I wasn't sold on it first," Allen said, "but after talking about what's left in Davison County and the surrounding counties, I think it's something we have to bite on. It's working up there, so why can't it work around here?"

Here's how the program works: When new CRP acres become available, a landowner who wants to enroll acreage in Walk-In Area can contact Dan DeBoer, a farm bill biologist for Pheasants Forever based in Mitchell.

The landowner receives payment for enrolling in CRP from the Farm Service Agency based off soil quality and county location. Then, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks offers $1 per acre, per year, for hunter access plus $5 per acre, per year, of permanent habitat for the 10 years it is in contract. GF&P also offers a one-time payment of $25 per acre.

Now, because of the funding put forth from Pheasant Country, landowners will get an additional $35 per acre sign-up incentive as a one-time payment at the beginning of the contract. DeBoer can be reached at 605-380-3298 or ddeboer@pheasantsforever.org.

"I think Mitchell has a lot of potential for this because of how little acreage there currently is," DeBoer said. "Money talks in situations like this."

DeBoer, Pheasants Forever and Pheasant Country will be working in the near future to reach out to businesses in Mitchell and the region to gauge their interest in adding to the funding source.

The Walk-In Area program began in 1988 and some South Dakota counties have utilized the program more than others. Like Davison County, Douglas County does not have any Walk-In Area acres. Sanborn County has one area with 320 acres, Aurora County has four areas with 735 acres, Hanson County has five with 523 acres and Hutchinson County has 15 Walk-In Areas for 1,421 acres.

Allen is hoping the $150,000 will impact roughly 4,000 acres near Mitchell and explained there's no fundraising goal set at this time.

"Habitat, habitat, habitat," Allen said. "That's what this is all about."

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