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The original item was published from 7/27/2021 10:01:39 AM to 8/27/2021 12:00:04 AM.

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City of Mitchell News Flash

Posted on: July 26, 2021

[ARCHIVED] City Announces $1 Million Available for Conservation Projects

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City Announces $1 Million Available for Conservation Projects

The City of Mitchell has secured a $1 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to promote conservation projects in a seven-county area.   The Firesteel Creek Conservation Grant will provide funding to landowners interested in a variety of conservation practices.  The goals of the project are to enhance wildlife habitat, improve water quality and soil health, and to help producers increase profitability on problem soils.   One type of project that is being promoted is the concept of planting perennial grasses on marginal cropland where producers are having a difficult time making those acres profitable.  Enrolled acres planted back to perennial species maybe hayed and grazed as part of a management plan, generating income for the landowner, reducing the input costs, improving soil health and reducing runoff from the land which improves water quality in the watershed.  For example, Firesteel Creek aids Lake Mitchell.   Restored grasslands will also provide potential nesting areas for pheasants, ducks and other species.  Funding available through the grant can help pay for related costs, including grass seeding, fencing, and livestock water improvements.  A similar project funded through the grant can provide funding to landowners interested in fencing riparian habitats along Firesteel Creek and other creeks in the project area.  Landowners can also qualify for a one-time signup payment in exchange for enrolling in the program.

The initial idea of the grant was generated by a group of people concerned about the Firesteel Watershed and Lake Mitchell.  The group was also looking for solutions to the water quality issues that plague the lake every year, according to Mayor Bob Everson.  Much of the required non-Federal matching dollars for the grant were secured through the City’s purchase of the Kelley property on the west edge of Lake Mitchell.  “Not only was the purchase of the property a key component of our long-term strategy to restore the health of Lake Mitchell, but it also presented to us an opportunity to leverage our community’s investment and secure this grant, providing funds to work with interested landowners in the watershed on projects that will reduce the amount of contaminants entering Firesteel Creek and the lake”, said Mayor Bob Everson.  High phosphorus levels in the lake are the primary cause of the algae blooms that plague the lake almost every year.  The City is working with Ducks Unlimited to establish wetlands on the Kelley property as part of the overall strategy to improve water quality in the lake.  Wetlands have tremendous natural capacity to improve water quality by retaining phosphorus, sediment, nitrogen and other potential pollutants within the wetland.  Restoring wetlands is another conservation practice being promoted and funded through the grant.

Many conservation agencies and organizations are working with the city to implement the Firesteel Creek project in Aurora, Beadle, Brule, Buffalo, Davison, Jerauld and Sanborn Counties. Landowners anywhere in these counties who are interested in learning more about the grant and potential projects can contact their local conservation district or Natural Resources Conservation Service office.  Interested landowners can also work through their local Pheasants Forever or Game, Fish and Parks private lands biologists.  

The grant funding is authorized by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, a federal law through which Congress appropriates funding each year to promote the conservation of wetlands throughout North America.  Project proposals from South Dakota tend to rank high in this very competitive grant program because much of eastern South Dakota is in the Prairie Pothole Region, one of the most important wetland landscapes in North America, according to Steve Donovan, who will be administering the grant for the city of Mitchell.  Donovan estimates he has written approximately 30 of these successful million dollar grants in landscapes throughout the western United States and knows that South Dakota is special.  “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and groups like Ducks Unlimited recognize the importance of this area to wetland dependent migratory birds, including ducks.  That is why the Prairie Pothole Region is a priority for funding wetland conservation,” said Donovan.  The millions of small, shallow pothole wetlands found here are responsible for producing over half of the ducks raised annually in North America, according to Donovan.  This landscape is also important breeding habitat for many other wetland dependent migratory bird species and other species, including the ring-necked pheasant.

Mayor Everson says the Firesteel Creek project is just the beginning of a long-term program to improve the health of Firesteel Creek Watershed and Lake Mitchell while also helping producers interested in improving soil health and restoring wildlife habitat for species such as the ring-necked pheasant.  That is a point not lost on Mayor Everson.   “It’s really a win-win scenario”, said Everson.  “This grant will help interested landowners improve conservation on their lands, but it will also provide benefits in other areas, such as wildlife habitat and water quality, all of which is important to our citizens and our local economy,” said Everson.  

For more information, contact the City of Mitchell by calling (605) 995-8420 or emailing sellwein@cityofmitchell.org.

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