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Aiming to Keep SD's Wildlife Off Endangered List

The loss of short and mixed-grass prairies in the Great Plains has significantly reduced South Dakota's swift fox population. (
The loss of short and mixed-grass prairies in the Great Plains has significantly reduced South Dakota's swift fox population. (
December 23, 2019

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- One-third of America's wildlife is vulnerable to extinction, including 104 species in South Dakota. But a new bill in Congress could dramatically improve their survival chances.

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act would dedicate funding to allow state and tribal wildlife managers to step up their conservation efforts. Chris Hesla, executive director with the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, said the bill would provide about $10 million to South Dakota to proactively keep species off the endangered list - which is far less costly than rescuing a species in trouble.

"Things like butterflies, bats, box turtles and blue suckers here in South Dakota, and even the Greater Prairie Chicken, which was a game animal, but right now it's so sparse, it doesn't have habitats to live," Hesla said.

State agencies have identified about 12,000 species across the U.S. that could benefit from this type of funding. If passed, the bill would allocate about $1 billion annually to wildlife conservation efforts.

Western states share authority for managing wildlife with tribal nations, but federal funds now go almost entirely to state fish and wildlife agencies. Shaun Grassel, a biologist with the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, said the legislation would improve conservation efforts on tribal lands.

"Each tribe can develop their own 'species of greatest conservation need' list," Grassel said. "So, what I keep telling folks, it's landmark legislation for tribes. For the states, it's a significant piece of legislation - but for tribes, it's landmark."

Grassel said additional funding would also help the Lower Brule Tribe continue its efforts to save the black-footed ferret. Considered North America's rarest mammal, the ferret was nearly extinct until tribes collaborated with the Forest Service to save the species.

"This is a project that has national significance, where the tribe voluntarily stepped up to be a partner with the federal government to recover ferrets," he said. "But we have no idea where our funding's going to be from one year to the next."

The bill has more than 130 co-sponsors, both Democrats and Republicans, although South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson, a Republican, has not taken a position on it.

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD