With numerous wetlands and large intact grasslands, the Prairie Pothole region supports a rich diversity of native plants and wildlife. It is considered one of the most important areas in the Western Hemisphere for migratory birds and produces half of North America’s duck population annually.
“The grasslands and wetlands in this part of South Dakota are wonderful habitat for ducks and other wildlife, but we’re losing these places rapidly,” said Mary Miller, preserve manager at the Conservancy’s Samuel H. Ordway, Jr. Memorial Prairie west of Leola. “Having Juli on staff will give us more capacity to protect these important native habitats while we still can.”
Gehant grew up in southern Illinois but has been visiting the cabin her father’s family built in 1915 in eastern South Dakota since she was a child. She is a graduate of South Dakota State University in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and has worked in north central South Dakota for most of the last two years as a management and research technician and on prescribed fire crews for the Conservancy.
Gehant will work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other partners to help interested landowners conserve grasslands and wetlands on their property. She is starting in McPherson and Faulk counties and will eventually branch out to Campbell, Walworth, Spink, Edmunds, Brown and Potter counties.
Gehant will provide landowners with information about conservation programs including conservation easements, which are voluntary legal agreements that protect the conservation values of land or water and allow grazing, which is crucial for maintaining grassland habitat.
“The easement program is popular with landowners in this area because it highlights the common vision that is shared by the landowner and the Service,” said Harris Hoistad, Project Leader at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Gehant said she’s excited about her new position with the Conservancy because she loves prairies and wants to help conserve them.
“There’s so much more prairie remaining here than in Illinois where I grew up,” she said. “I am looking forward to meeting with landowners and helping them take the first step in protecting these native grasslands and wetlands that are so much a part of the South Dakota landscape.”
This effort is partially funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Wells Fargo through a grant provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Gehant is based out of the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge Office north of Aberdeen. Landowners can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 605-885-6320, extension 39.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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