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Group discusses Habitat Pays campaign

ARMOUR--Small in numbers but not in energy, a South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks open house event drew just four Armour men, providing an individualized presentation from department officials.

Jason Bumsted, habitat resource biologist for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, gives a presentation about the Habitat Pays conservation program to Armour residents Thursday night at the Armour Fire Hall. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
Jason Bumsted, habitat resource biologist for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, gives a presentation about the Habitat Pays conservation program to Armour residents Thursday night at the Armour Fire Hall. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

ARMOUR-Small in numbers but not in energy, a South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks open house event drew just four Armour men, providing an individualized presentation from department officials.

Randy Van Zee, Greg Blume, Lealan Punt and Frank Mingo, all of Armour, were present for a presentation about the recently instated Habitat Pays campaign from Jason Bumsted, a habitat resource biologist for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. Open house events provide customers with an opportunity to visit with GF&P and ask questions about topics related to area lakes and fishing, wildlife populations, habitat management and other issues within that particular county.

"That's kind of what we want," said District Conservation Officer Supervisor Steve Russow. "We want to answer any questions they have and do it in an open environment and that's easier to do in a small setting."

Habitat Pays is an online initiative to help give landowners and ranchers knowledge of available habitat resources in one place, to earn financial incentives to put their land into conservation. The website is a joint effort between the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and Agriculture departments, and went live in October.

In total, there were eight people present at the meeting, with other GF&P officials Jeff Martin and Dale Gates also helping to guide discussion. GF&P officials joked prior to the start of the meeting, saying the turnout in Armour was one of the best they've had at their handful of stops this year.

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"It's more difficult in these small towns to get big crowds, that's the bottom line," said Gates, regional conservation officer supervisor, based out of Pierre. "If we were to do the same amount of advertising in Sioux Falls or Watertown, there'd be quite a bit more people."

Also, if there's a relevant local issue to be discussed with GF&P officials, similar open houses tend to draw a larger crowd, Gates said. The last time GF&P hosted an open house in Armour, about four years ago, Gates said approximately 12 people were present. GF&P holds four to five open houses annually, on a rotating schedule in an attempt to visit several different regions.

"If there's a specific local issue, more people will show up," Gates said. "There needs to be a hot-button issue or something big going on to get a big crowd in a small town."

The slideshow presentation, geared toward landowners, introduced the men to habitat.sd.gov, the official site for Habitat Pays, which was implemented by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard as a result of Daugaard's 2013 Habitat Summit and its Pheasant Habitat Work Group. The work group made eight recommendations to help boost the amount of habitat in South Dakota, and two recommendations combined to become the Habitat Pays campaign. On the website are resources with more information about wildlife conservation programs available through Habitat Pays. Bumsted said Habitat Pays is still considered "new," and said it is important to spread the word to people in communities across the state that its programs are available.

"The point is to let the landowners know that this website exists to help them establish habitat on their land," Bumsted said. "There is probably a good percent that doesn't know about it yet. As word gets out, we find people who do want to implement habitat because they know these programs and this funding exists to fund habitat."

Highlighted in the presentation were resources-like contacts and websites-to promote grassland habitats, wetland habitats, woody habitats and food plots.

And, although no new information about Habitat Pays was presented, Bumsted said it was useful to, at least, show attendees of the open house how to navigate the website.

"Nothing has changed since (Habitat Pays) came out," Bumsted said. "As research goes on and funding becomes available, there might be more programs that will exist in the future. This is just what they've got now."

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At least one attendee found the program beneficial.

As he was leaving Frank Mingo said, "It's been pretty worthwhile just for getting all of that information. If nothing else, I know where to find what I need to on that website."

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