Federal grant awarded to conservation project

Brittany Westerberg

Brittany Westerberg

Landowners, members of both federal and state groups and other interested parties met Sept. 22 at the South Dakota Art Museum to hear U.S. Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin officially announce the awarding of a federal grant to the Harvey Dunn Grassland Preservation Project.

“These grasslands ? [have been] a part of our rural heritage for many generations,” Herseth Sandlin said. “[This grant] is going to go so far in helping the project to reach its goal.”

The project’s ultimate goal is to protect 24,000 acres of grasslands by purchasing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service easements. These acres will be protected from being turned into cropland. Land used for crops means fewer places for wildlife habitat and scenic prairie vistas, which are needed as nesting sites for many species of waterfowl and other grassland nesting birds.

“Wetlands and prairie are probably the two most endangered ecosystems we have [in the U.S.],” Jeff Vonk, secretary of S.D. Game, Fish and Parks, said.

The federal grant, in the sum of $1 million, will go toward purchasing easements for 3,000 acres of grasslands in Brookings and Kingsbury counties. Over 75 landowners have already expressed interest in participating and are waiting for potential easement offers.

The money comes to the project as part of the North American Waterfowl Federation Conservation Act, which includes 21 different projects in 16 different states, according to Herseth Sandlin.

“It’s an honor to be able to extend this award,” Herseth Sandlin said. She has always been around conservation, she said, as she grew up near the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Aberdeen, S.D. “[The money] will work to help make sure the beautiful vistas in Harvey Dunn’s paintings are preserved on more than just canvas for future generations.”

Harvey Dunn was a South Dakota born artist/illustrator whose parents homesteaded in Kingsbury County. He attended South Dakota Agricultural College (now SDSU) before moving on to attend the Chicago Art Institute. The prairie and scenes he saw for more than 16 years while he was growing up influenced many of his paintings.

One of Harvey Dunn’s paintings, “The Prairie Trail,” is the official print of the project, and through the efforts of a unique partnership with the South Dakota Art Museum and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, money from the sale of this print will be used to purchase grassland protection easements from willing landowners.

“I think this is an appropriate work of art to be associated with this project,” Herseth Sandlin said.

The easements purchased with the grant money and other monies will make sure that the land will be protected from conversion to cropland and maintain valuable wildlife habitat, while at the same time keeping the land privately owned.

Many groups have participated in this project and continue to show their support, including S.D. Game, Fish and Parks, the South Dakota Art Museum, Pheasants Forever, The Wildlife Federation and the Northern Prairies Land Trust. These groups helped assist with fundraising, among other things, and other smaller conservation groups have also expressed interest in supporting the project as well.

“This was a fantastic unique group? getting together and getting a new conservation project on the ground,” Noel Matson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.