How Habitat Pays
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
The Besler family has been in the ranching business for five generations. On their ranch near Bison, the Beslers run red Angus cows on native pasture land that has plenty of good natural shelter. “It’s just good ranch country,” says Brad Besler.
The father, son and grandfather who currently run the operation have been working with Game, Fish and Parks and other entities to improve their lands. They have built dams, installed cross fences, converted cropland back to grassland and implemented rotational livestock grazing practices. As a result, according to Brad, the Beslers have seen the quantity and quality of their habitat improve. This, he says, is benefiting their cattle and the wildlife.
I believe many South Dakotans are like the Beslers. As a people tied to the land, we’re conservationists at heart. With more than 115,000 South Dakotans working in agriculture, many of us grew up on farms or ranches or have family or friends with ag operations. Because agriculture is a part of our heritage, an understanding of the value of conservation has been passed on from generation to generation.
South Dakotans want to be good stewards of their land but sometimes aren’t aware of their options. We want to use best practices, but sometimes we’re not sure what is best. That’s why the state departments of Agriculture and Game, Fish and Parks recently launched the Habitat Pays initiative.
Through this program, we are helping landowners navigate conservation opportunities. Habitat Pays showcases the tools available to help landowners determine how best to utilize their acres. The Habitat Pays website, habitat.sd.gov, serves as a one-stop-shop for finding state, federal and non-governmental programs that provide cost-share or technical assistance to producers.
Also under Habitat Pays, habitat advisors are available to meet with landowners. Habitat advisors learn about a landowner’s operation and conservation goals, and then offer advice on the potential benefits of utilizing different programs or practices. Habitat advisors recognize that every operation is different, so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to agriculture and conservation. On the website you can hear stories from farmers and ranchers like the Beslers, who have worked with a habitat advisor and adopted conservation practices themselves.
Habitat conservation is important. By balancing agricultural production with targeted conservation goals, landowners can improve soil and water quality for a variety of species. These efforts enhance our wildlife population, preserve our outdoor traditions, and benefit farmers and ranchers. As Mike Jaspers, a row-crop producer near Bridgewater, puts it, “If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.”