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Published March 31, 2014, 09:33 AM

Eco-regions and priority areas

The Nature Conservancy identified every ecosystem type in different colors in the 1980s and 1990s, with a goal of preserving 10 percent of the remaining natural habitats in each of those areas.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

The Nature Conservancy identified every ecosystem type in different colors in the 1980s and 1990s, with a goal of preserving 10 percent of the remaining natural habitats in each of those areas. Within that, it identified priority areas, where the group could have the greatest impact. The Black Hills eco-region is the smallest in the country.

1) Black Hills: Whitney Preserve, southwest of Hot Springs, S.D., is the centerpiece. The 1,200-acre original parcel in the late 1990s was plotted into 22 lots for housing by a Massachusetts developer. The Conservancy purchased it and another 2,200 acres from the same developer.

The Conservancy also has a bison herd nearby at Lame Johnny Creek Ranch — one of the few known to be free of cattle genes.

2) Badlands Area: Conata Basin, south of Wall, S.D., is a 142,000-acre project area near Badlands National Park in South Dakota, including 32,000 acres on private ranches. The rest of the acres are controlled by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Since 2007, The Conservancy has helped enable small “inholding” land acquisitions by the park service, and land swaps with forest service and private ranchers, with easements. The Conservancy works with the Conata Ranch, which runs 400 bison in the area. Acquisitions have helped eliminate six miles of interface between public and private land. The Conservancy is leasing out its land and accommodating neighbors’ 200 cattle while running 30 head of their own grazing allotments.

3) Missouri River: This is the Cross Ranch Preserve near Washburn, N.D. The river area protects least terns, piping plovers and whooping cranes. The property is 5,593 acres, of which 4,953 are owned by The Conservancy. The Conservancy’s property includes a bison herd.

4) Missouri Coteau: This is the Ordway Preserve near Leola, S.D. The Nature Conservancy acquired 7,800 acres here in 1975. The land is in the Prairie Pothole region of South Dakota. The location west of Leola, includes 250 bison, with cattle on sections leased to ranchers in a rotational grazing program. The Conservancy works with landowners, Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other state and federal agencies to conserve land for livestock and wildlife.

5) Prairie Coteau: The Prairie Coteau is one of the largest remaining blocks of native northern tallgrass prairie in the continental U.S. The area runs from the North Dakota border in northeast South Dakota to near Jackson, Minn. From its regional office in Clear Lake, S.D., The Conservancy manages seven preserves and works with 22 partner groups to help manage working lands and encourage the use of conservation easements.

6) Northern Tallgrass Prairie: This is the Bluestem Prairie Preserve, Glyndon, Minn. The location includes 6,078 acres. Of special importance is the prairie chicken booming grounds. The Conservancy manages the preserve through prescribed burning, biological inventories and controlling non-native species by hand-cutting, mowing and localized spraying.

7) Tallgrass Aspen Parkland: This is the Wallace C. Dayton Conservation and Wildlife Area near Karlstad, Minn. This 15,150-acre area includes 13,000 managed by The Conservancy. The organization touts its efforts to reduce habitat fragmentation to benefit wildlife including wolves, bear, moose and elk. The Conservancy uses fire on a “large, but controlled scale to promote sustainable agriculture in selected areas.”

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