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South Dakota

Voice From the Field

Grasslands provide crucial wildlife habitat and also help protect water quality and quantity. But they are under pressure from invasive species, lack of fire and conversion for other uses.

The Conservancy has hired Julianna Gehant to help landowners in South Dakota’s Prairie Pothole region protect their grasslands and wetlands. Her work is partially funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Wells Fargo through a grant provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Nature.org recently caught up with Juli to learn more about her and her work in South Dakota.

Juli Gehant
Conservation Easement Technician for the Conservancy in South Dakota

Nature.org:

You grew up in Illinois, so we’re wondering what brought you to South Dakota?

Juli Gehant:

My dad’s family was originally from eastern South Dakota and kept the family cabin, which we used to visit in the summer when I was growing up. I went to South Dakota State University in Brookings to get my degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, and then did seasonal work in the Prairie Pothole region. I really enjoyed it and decided to stick around.

Nature.org:

What do you like about the Prairie Pothole landscape you’re working in?

Juli Gehant:

It’s a beautiful landscape, but not one that people universally find beautiful like a rainforest or a coral reef. You have to get to know it better before you can really see the beauty. I especially love spring when all the birds are migrating through. It’s intense biodiversity in a small space.

Nature.org:

What are some of the challenges these prairies and wetlands are facing?

Juli Gehant:

The biggest challenge right now and the one most on my mind is pressure to convert grasslands and wetlands to corn and soybeans because crop prices are so high. Small wetlands, which are often overlooked but so important for birds, are easily drained and converted to agriculture.

Nature.org:

Can you tell us about the work you’re doing for The Nature Conservancy?

Juli Gehant:

I’m working out of the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge office in northeast South Dakota, and right now my focus is talking to landowners who have high quality wetlands and grasslands. I assess how much native grass and how many wetlands they have, and then I share information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s conservation easement program as a way to help them protect their grasslands and wetlands. If they don’t qualify for the easement program, I share information about other conservation programs they might be eligible for.

Nature.org:

What has been the response from landowners so far?

Juli Gehant:

Meeting with landowners is my favorite part of the job.They are passionate about preserving the landscape they grew up in and have some interesting stories to share about their land and its history. Many are interested in the conservation easement program because it will help them reduce erosion and protect water quality. It also allows them to protect wildlife habitat, something that many of them want, but can’t afford, to do. The payments they receive for their easement makes it possible.

Nature.org:

Sounds like you’re pretty busy. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

Juli Gehant:

In the winter, I cross-country ski. I also enjoy hiking with my black lab puppy Sadie and camping… in the warmer months!


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