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Pheasants Forever putting $15K toward pollinator habitat program

Pheasants Forever is concerned about the birds and the bees.

That’s why the national organization is utilizing $15,000 from recently awarded grants toward its new South Dakota Pollinator Habitat and Education program.

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South Dakota Pheasants Forever earlier this month was awarded a $10,000 grant from the South Dakota Community Fund, which will be combined with $5,000 from a portion of a SportDOG Futures Forward Grant it received last fall for the pollinator habitat program.

The program will be beneficial for multiple reasons, said Mike Stephenson, Pheasants Forever’s South Dakota regional representative. Aside from creating habitat for pheasants, it was created to educate students and help diminishing honeybee populations.

“This could be a giant milestone for us,” Stephenson said. “When we see we’re going to have a decrease in CRP acres, we need to be more creative in finding new programs and creating new partnerships. This could be something big for the state for both bees and pheasants, which are both seeing a decline in population.”

Habitat for pheasants in the state has been decreasing in recent years. South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a Republican, recently said that the Conservation Reserve Program — which sets aside marginal acreage for plants and wildlife — will also see a significant drop in total acreage allowed in the newest farm bill.

Like statewide pheasant numbers, bee numbers are also declining statewide and nationally. A report from Yale University says that one in every three foods depends on pollinators, especially bees, for successful harvest. The report says some beekeepers in the United States are seeing a decline in their colonies by up to 40 to 50 percent

That’s why the pollinator habitat program is a win-win for both species. The grant money will go toward planting a seed mix that’s beneficial for bees and will build habitat for pheasants. Stephenson explained plants that can be pollinated by bees are an “excellent brood habitat” for pheasants because the insects and other bugs on the plants bring a source of protein for young birds in the spring.

The program also is intended to bring students together to plant pollinator habitat to serve as an outdoor classroom and bring appreciation toward wildlife and the ecosystem.

Stephenson said South Dakota Pheasants Forever will work with Mitchell Christian middle school students later this spring to plant seed at the Bluestem Game Production Area, about five miles south of Mitchell on state Highway 37. One-fifth of the SportDOG grant will be used locally to fund the project at Bluestem GPA. The entire grant given to Pheasants Forever was $25,000, which will be distributed to South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin evenly at $5,000 apiece to fund a similar projects.

“Everyone is concerned about bird numbers and this is just one more way to become creative to keep and grow our bird populations,” Stephenson said.

In addition to the local project near Mitchell, South Dakota Pheasants Forever has also announced that the $10,000 grant from the South Dakota Community Fund will fund up to eight other pollinator habitat education programs across the state later this spring.

The South Dakota Community Foundation is a public nonprofit organization that solicits funds and invests in a wide range of projects promoting the social and economic well-being of people in South Dakota.

“This program will provide educational opportunities for youth and communities to get outside and learn the importance of habitat for all species of wildlife,” Ginger Niemann, South Dakota Community Foundation program officer, said in a press release. “The South Dakota Community Foundation is pleased to be a partner on this important project.”