"Now is the time for
South Dakota to put what resources
BHSS Foundation Awards Grant
Pledges $5,000 To South Dakota
When ranchers in the state sold private land to the government to form the grasslands back in the 1930's, it was sold with the promise that those lands would be used for agricultural purposes.
"That promise has been broken with the National Forest Service proposed revision of the Northern Great Plains Management Plan," says Joe Norman, president of the Black Hills Stock Show Foundation, an organization that annually awards grant monies in the region.
"I don't believe there is anyone who doesn't support good land stewardship - and the evidence is there that shows the country's grass users - ranchers - have done just that. The information to document this and other social and economic benefits that have been derived from utilizing grasslands through production agriculture, exists."
Through the South Dakota Grassland Coalition (SDGLC) that represents grassland users in the state, the Foundation's $5,000 grant award will be used to further information available on the state's grasslands and to encourage the study of grazing systems to better utilize existing natural resource base.
South Dakota's total land mass is 77,123 square miles. Of that, 53 percent is in grassland production. The livestock industry represents more than 60 percent of South Dakota's agricultural output - the state's leading economic driver.
"Because of the broad scope and estimated impact to the region of the new grassland management plan that affects 2.9 million acres located in six South Dakota and Nebraska grasslands, as well as the Thunder Basin National Grassland in northeastern Wyoming, and the Dakota Prairie Grasslands in North Dakota, it has become increasingly important," says Norman, "for public and private grazing interests to join together in defending production agriculture's interests."
According to SDGLC chairman, Mark Sip, Geddes, SD, it's an uncertain time with more unsettling questions than answers. "Projections for stocking rate reductions are all over the board, making it difficult to comprehend, much less effectively address the proposed management revisions."
"Among the things we do know; stocking rates are going to decrease - anywhere from four percent to 44 percent. It would seem that this is being done because the Forest Service believes that grazing is inherently harmful to range conditions."
Sip points to research from Kansas that shows how utilizing native range with grazing actually results in higher condition than ungrazed range. "Grazing animals are a keystone species in the range ecosystem and to remove them will negatively impact that ecosystem. Even if the Forest Service's position was correct, what's being proposed won't accomplish improved range conditions."
He adds, "It's our position that the economic impact on entire communities and loss of ranchers' equity will be significant."
In North Dakota, preliminary economic analysis has been done that shows 12 percent of area employment is dependent upon the grasslands. Grazing cuts of 44 percent just in one county alone will translate to losing 145 jobs and $15 million in lost economies. In that same county, it's estimated that equity will fall by $24 million, decreasing ranchers lending capacity, net worth and loan-repayment capabilities.
While the study done by a North Dakota State University Extension Economist uses a worst-case scenario of a 44 percent reduction in stocking rates, it's the position of many that any reductions in grazing will have a negative economic impact.
For South Dakota grassland users, estimated stocking reductions based on the Forest Service's new measure of managing the range, may be less severe than in other regions - ranging from reports of four to 10 percent. The new measure is called grass structure and is the amount of grass that's left at the end of the grazing season. There are three different structure classes: low, moderate and high.
It's within those structures that grassland users will be given stocking rates. Without a better understanding of how the new grass structure measure will be applied, along with the thousands of additional acres to be closed or partially closed to grazing for increasing blackfooted ferret and prairie dog populations, wilderness designation, unique plant species designation and research designation areas, the state's grass users find themselves at a disadvantage in being able to make informed management decisions.
"Now is the time for South Dakota to put what resources it can towards a clear definition of what these revisions will mean, not only to ranchers but to all users of the state's grasslands," says Norman.
SDGLC coordinator Ron Ogren, Wessington Springs, SD, agrees. "While the impact to agriculture is huge, these revisions will go beyond that - to mineral industries, recreational and environmental interests. The pendulum is swinging away from the multiple-use concept now in place to a preservationists mode. Which isn't conservation - there's a big difference."
The Black Hills Stock Show Foundation is a non-profit organization. As part of its mission of "Preserving The Legacy, Investing In The Future", the Foundation is dedicated to supporting youth in higher education and organizations, programs and projects that enhance services and education to the public.
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