Federal government opens grassland conservation program to tribes
(John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
Three South Dakota tribal nations have a new opportunity to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conserve and improve grasslands.
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program pays landowners to set aside environmentally sensitive land for a specific conservation concern. Landowners get money, and the public gets benefits like cleaner water and more wildlife habitat. Grasslands also fight climate change by removing heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil.
The Cheyenne River, Oglala and Rosebud Sioux tribes will soon enter into agreements with the USDA to enroll eligible lands within the boundaries of their reservations, according to a USDA news release. These are the first-ever CREP agreements in partnership with tribal nations.
Scott Marlow, a USDA deputy administrator for farm programs, met with tribal leaders at Western Dakota Technical College in Rapid City to discuss the CREP agreements.
“It is vital that programs like CREP are not just available but also accessible to all agricultural communities,” Marlow said in a statement. “These agreements underscore not only our strong commitment to equity, but also the vital contribution Native communities make to our country’s agriculture and conservation efforts.”
The agreement authorizes enrollment of up to 1.5 million acres by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, 1 million acres by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and 600,000 acres by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
Through the program, land owned by the tribes and individual tribal farmers or ranchers will be voluntarily entered into contracts with the federal government for 10 to 15 years, under a vegetative cover of grasses and legumes.
Farmers and ranchers retain the right to conduct common grazing practices and operations related to the production of forage and seeding. In return, the USDA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance for establishing permanent fencing and livestock watering facilities needed to support livestock grazing.
The tribal CREPs do not require participants to enroll in the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks’ sponsored habitat and access program. As a result, the enrolled land will not be open to public hunting.
The USDA will accept tribal enrollments in the coming weeks.
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