Three area wetland projects in the James River valley, including one led by the city of Mitchell, have received federal grant funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Two of the grants are going to Ducks Unlimited for their work on the James River Lowlands’ Prairie Coteau and Missouri Coteau regions. The city of Mitchell’s project is also in the Prairie Pothole region — considered the most important waterfowl breeding territory in North America — but will focus on Firesteel Creek.
Each of the projects received $1 million through funding from the federal Migratory Bird Conservation Commission through North American Wetlands Conservation Act. The funds come from the purchase of migratory bird stamps and are used to conserve and restore wetlands and upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds.
In addition to the city of Mitchell, the Firesteel Creek project has received funding from Ducks Unlimited, Northern Prairies Land Trust, Pheasant Country and the Sanborn County Conservation District. Those organizations have vowed to provide $1,770,325 in support along with the $1 million federal grant award.
The project will focus on the protection and restoration of wetland and upland habitat in Aurora, Beadle, Brule, Buffalo, Davison, Jerauld and Sanborn counties. Conservation easements secured through this project will target at-risk wetland basins, a high-priority strategy recommended by the South Dakota State Tactical Plan developed under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
Another focus of this project is to promote alternative management strategies on marginal cropland, including cost share and lease payments offered to landowners of marginal cropland within the project area to encourage landowners to restore perennial vegetation on those acres, restoring both upland and wetland habitat. Many of these projects will also include the restoration of natural hydrology to prairie pothole wetlands and improve water quality.
The project will also work in conjunction with the city of Mitchell’s plans to improve the Lake Mitchell watershed. Firesteel Creek has a 350,000-acre watershed that has drawn nearly 900 parts per billion of phosphorus in 2017, helping foster algae growth in the lake. The Environmental Protection Agency has listed Lake Mitchell as an impaired body of water, meaning the lake doesn’t support domestic water supplies, immersion recreation, limited contact recreation or warm water permanent fish life.
The Prairie Coteau project involves 34 East River South Dakota counties along the Big Sioux and James River valleys, with Ducks Unlimited working with private landowners to develop long-term management plans to benefit ag producers, wildlife and the public. It has received $1,129,983 in matching contributions.
More than 500 acres of wetlands and 700 acres of grasslands will be protected with perpetual conservation easements, and 800-plus acres of wetlands will be enhanced through grazing rotations. Wetlands will also benefit from improved watershed management with the restoration and enhancement of over 7,000 acres of adjacent grasslands.
The Missouri Coteau project involves 28 East River South Dakota counties along the James and Missouri River valleys. It has received $1,521,356 in matching contributions. Ducks Unlimited and its partners will acquire grassland and wetland easements in the Missouri Coteau and James River Lowlands Regions of South Dakota to protect 3,657 acres of grassland and wetland habitat for migratory birds. The easements will become part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Waterfowl, particularly northern pintails, will benefit greatly from this project, as will numerous species of shorebirds, wading birds, marsh birds and other wetland-dependent wildlife species, grassland songbirds and other grassland-dependent wildlife species.
The counties of Aurora, Beadle, Bon Homme, Brown, Davison, Edmunds, Faulk, Hand, Hanson, Hutchinson, Jerauld, Kingsbury, McCook, McPherson, Miner, Sanborn, Spink and Yankton are involved in both James River Lowlands projects.
In particular, the Missouri Coteau project was partially supported by the Turner Foundation, which is businessman Ted Turner’s philanthropic organization. The foundation has supported Ducks Unlimited with $80,000 grants in each of the last two years to support Prairie Potholes restoration projects in the Dakotas and Montana.