Several South Dakota partners contribute to shared forester position

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A shared position held and administered by the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) in South Dakota is providing an extra set of hands to help Custer County Conservation District (CCCD) and other area conservation agencies implement forestry programs while also meeting NWTF habitat objectives.

The South Dakota Cooperative Forester position is funded with help from several partners: NRCS, South Dakota State Chapter of the NWTF, South Dakota Department of Agriculture – Resource Conservation and Forestry Division, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Neiman Timber Co., American Forest Foundation and CCCD.

Each partner has capacity needs for the delivery of different programs, but no one group has enough funds or legislative authorization to create a full-time position. All share common conservation goals, so they partnered to create the cooperative forester position, said Collin Smith, NWTF District Biologist for Wyoming, Montana, and North and South Dakota. The position took more than a year to develop and was filled in October 2017.

“The neat thing is all these organizations and agencies have shared common goals,” Smith said. “They all want to see improved forest health and active forest management increased on private lands.

CCCD contributes funding to the position, and the forester in turn assists in the district’s program delivery to landowners, conducts outreach, and raises awareness about local conservation issues and priorities. The position also works to secure other sources of funding for conservation delivery on private lands in Custer County.

While the position originated through efforts stemming from NWTF’s nationwide Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative, the shared forester also is spearheading a unique program, the French Creek Riparian Restoration Initiative on behalf of the conservation district.

NWTF developed priority focal landscapes in each state for conservation delivery, and in South Dakota one of the focus areas is the Black Hills – Pine Ridge area, a premier destination for wild turkey hunters and the home of the Merriam’s wild turkey subspecies. By improving and increasing the pace and scale of forest and riparian community management on private lands, this shared position in part is ensuring long-term viability of wild turkey habitat.

The shared forester covers six counties in the Black Hills region and also develops forest management plans, conducts outreach, and works on riparian systems on the prairie.

“The position has been effective,” Smith said. “It’s been very well received and accepted by the partners.”

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