Wetlands, Woods, and Wildlife Habitat= $$$

Good luck finding a hotel room for less than a hundred bucks in central South Dakota tonight… Yup, flyover land is booked solid. Lookin’ to rent a four wheel drive anything at the suddenly busy Sioux Falls airport? You’ll have better luck stealing one. Better pack a lunch too, as every eatery within a hundred miles of the Missouri will be packed. It’s hunting season, and those hunters in just a few days will drop a couple hundred million $$$ into South Dakota’s rural economy.

South Dakota gets a lot of things wrong, but when it comes to rural land preservation, they’re beat both their usual rival Mississippi but Minnesota too. I live in southwest Minnesota, hard up against the Dakota border, and rarely do I get to brake for pheasants, though the deer have found asylum in our sleepy little town with it’s 40 odd acres of woods and weird folks. But when it comes to preserving the marshes, tall grass prairie, shelter belts, wooded farmsteads, and just plain old fence row roughage, South Dakota clearly has a good thing going.

This is largely accident of history rather than intent- Minnesota started draining wetlands with a vengeance in the late 19th century, and hasn’t let up since. State law actually favors drainage, and my town just had to pay a few hundred dollars to the local ditch authority for a ditch that don’t even benefit us. What cover remained for our wildlife to find homes in is increasingly being bulldozed by corporate farmers miffed that they might have to turn their tractors around every mile or so. Heck, even our driveways ain’t safe, my neighbors who are managing their dozen or so acres for conservation are fighting a corporate farmer who’s usurping the back driveway they need in case the train blocks their main driveway, and I just had to point out my property line to a dim bulb neighbor who thinks he’s gonna clear the junk and trees out of his extra lot and cash in on the farmland bubble. It’s no wonder that while democratic governor Dayton has tried hard to promote hunting in Minnesota, the game is getting so scarce that he’s become an advocate for wildlife habitat preservation. He proposed and with the help of our democratic legislators passed a bill that requires a modest uncultivated “buffer zone” along waterways and ditches. This of course drew a firestorm of protest from the corporate farmers and their pet Farm Bureau, and the sudden appearance of some really big diameter plastic drainage pipe along local fields… Maybe they think they’re gonna bury even the ditch for good, never mind the long ago lost wetlands? No wonder hunters ain’t flyin’ here from all over…

Central South Dakota where all the pheasants and hunters are this weekend was settled later, after the ditching epidemic had eased and just as conservation was being rediscovered. Helped too that central South Dakota is dryer than Minnesota, so there was just plain less wetlands to drain. Farming is tougher there, and until recently the Missouri River was considered the western limit of dryland farming, though big ag has been pushing that limit of late. Then in response to the dust bowl, the federal government during the depression put folks to work planting millions of trees in shelter belts to keep the high plains states from Texas to the Dakotas from blowing away.

Such was made the investment in farming diversity that is bringing a couple hundred million in spending to the economy of rural South Dakota over the next few days. Meanwhile, Minnesota corporate farmers bulldoze any semblance of wildlife habitat so they can plant more of the unprofitable three buck a bushel corn that the elevators, outdoor piles, and even outbuildings are full of…

Farming, hunting, fishing, tourism, recreation, and manufacturing are all part of a successful diverse rural economy… And make a lot more sense that putting all your bets on corn and beans!

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