GF&P looks to lease 25,000 acres along the Big Sioux watershed

Game, Fish and Parks is expanding CREP into the Big Sioux Watershed

By: - November 4, 2022 3:00 pm
Ray Carter (standing) and Milt Carter (kneeling), both of Watertown, hunt on the Big Sioux River basin similar to that which will be expanded by the new Big Sioux CREP program

Ray Carter (standing) and Milt Carter (kneeling), both of Watertown, hunt on the Big Sioux River basin similar to that which will be expanded by the new Big Sioux CREP program (photo courtesy of Brad Johnson).

South Dakota is home to just under 1.5 million acres of private land leased for public hunting across the state.

That number may soon rise by 25,000 acres. 

State Game, Fish and Parks hunting access and Farm Bill coordinator Mark Norton gave the status update on private land leased for public hunting in South Dakota during a GF&P Commission meeting on Thursday in Pierre. He said the 1.5 million acres are tied to many different programs. 

The largest is the Walk-In Area (WIA) program, Norton said, which accounts for about 1.3 million acres.

Walk-In Area land south of Harrisburg, SD, as seen on Nov. 4, 2022 (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight).

WIA pays landowners to open up some of their property to foot-traffic-only public hunting. 

Another program, called the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), accounts for 79,000 acres.

Administered by the USDA and GF&P, CREP  pays landowners for habitat conservation through multi-year contracts. Landowners get money; the public gets cleaner water and more wildlife habitat. Protected lands also store carbon, making them a tool in efforts to rein in climate change.

The CREP program along the James River watershed started in 2009, but many of those contracts expired in 2020.

“The last three years we’ve had some pretty big expiration years, and we’ve been able to re-enroll over 75% of those expiring acres,” Norton said. “And in January of 2021, we were able to start enrolling new lands into the James River CREP as well.”

In January, the department began enrolling acres along the James River Watershed. About 10,000 new acres have been added in that watershed so far,  Norton said.

GF&P is now set to expand the CREP program into the Big Sioux Watershed.

The department wants to enroll about 25,000 acres, starting in November. 

Conservation programs typically draw praise from hunting and fishing groups, but the expansion has also earned the praise of environmental organizations. 

Brad Johnson, a board member of South Dakota Lakes and Streams, called the expansion great news for regional water quality.

“The Big Sioux CREP program is great news for improved water quality and enhanced recreational access to land in the Big Sioux River Basin,” Johnson said. “There is never enough money available to protect our lakes and Streams from pollution runoff. This will help preserve our water for future generations.”

Jay Gilbertson, manager of the East Dakota Water Development District, is particularly excited to see that about 5,000 of those 25,000 acres will be directly targeted at land right along the Big Sioux riverbank.

“That protects water quality and filters runoff, all while helping to hold soil in place,” Gilbertson said. “As a result, reducing the harmful fertilizers that end up in the river.”

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Joshua Haiar
Joshua Haiar

Joshua Haiar is a reporter based in Sioux Falls. Born and raised in Mitchell, he joined the Navy as a public affairs specialist after high school and then earned a degree from the University of South Dakota. Prior to joining South Dakota Searchlight, Joshua worked for five years as a multimedia specialist and journalist with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.