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SD allocated record amount for conservation

South Dakota is set to receive a record amount -- more than $17.8 million -- this year from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for wildlife conservation and recreation projects.

The money is a portion of nearly $1.1 billion in federal tax revenue allocated this year to fish and wildlife agencies across the country, according to a news release issued this week by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The federal tax revenue is distributed annually and comes from the sale of firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing equipment and electric outboard motors, as well as fuel taxes paid to run boats and small engines.

South Dakota's share includes about $13.8 million from the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Fund and about $3.9 million from the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Fund. That's a total of about $17.8 million, which is the most the state has ever received from the two funds combined in a single year.

South Dakota received a total of $13.9 million from the two funds in 2013, $10.8 million in 2012 and $11.3 million in 2011.

Chris Petersen, finance director for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, said the record amount allocated to the state this year didn't necessarily come as a surprise.

"We've seen the dollars grow a little bit over the last three or four years," he said in an interview Friday with The Daily Republic.

The money typically accounts for about one-third of the budget for the GF&P's Wildlife Division, with much of the remainder coming from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, Petersen said.

The state will use the federal money for a variety of projects, including the walk-in area program, which pays landowners to allow hunters access to private land, according to Emily Kiel, communication manager for the GF&P's Wildlife Division.

It will also be used to help manage and enhance the GF&P's 730 Game Production Areas across the state, which total nearly 300,000 acres, and will assist landowners with wildlife management, help fund the operation of the state's fish hatcheries, help build and maintain boat ramps and pay for research to improve fish and wildlife management.

"The biggest piece of these dollars allows us to continue to offer all those services and projects the department already offers," Petersen said.

South Dakota has received at least $225.2 million from the two funds since they were created -- 1937 for the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Fund and 1950 for the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Fund.

The funds, which are under the control of the GF&P Commission, are only earmarked for South Dakota, Kiel said, which means the state obtains the money in the form of a reimbursement that pays for 75 percent of an expenditure after its approved by the federal government. The state pays for the remaining 25 percent on its own.

The revenue distributed to all the states increased by approximately $238.4 million this year compared to last year, due to an increase in revenue from sales of firearms and ammunition, and the inclusion of funds not distributed last year due to sequestration, the government's automatic budget cuts, the news release says.