A person stands in a rocky outcrop and looks out over the Conata Basin prairie.
Conata Basin A person looks out of a cave to the prairie beyond in the early evening. © Michael Forsberg
Stories in South Dakota

Policy and Nature

Learn about conservation policy in South Dakota and use your voice to speak up for nature.

Get started by exploring the guide below!

Keeping South Dakota Wild

The Nature Conservancy is working to keep South Dakota’s lands and waters wild and working for the next generation. Our state’s productive farms and ranches, rich wetlands and world-class outdoor recreation are all central to the South Dakota way of life. Let’s protect these resources by speaking up for nature!

Policy as a Conservation Tool

In South Dakota, we work to advance environmental policy that works for both people and nature. In addition to informing how we plan and execute conservation work, science drives TNC’s policy positions and our recommendations for public investments in conservation.

We work across borders, aisles and sectors to further our mission of conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Working alongside partners in business and industry and people from all walks of life, including Indigenous communities, Native Nations, and government at the local, state and national levels, we take a collaborative approach to create lasting conservation outcomes through policy. Our nonpartisan approach, commitment to science and collaborative spirit will help us realize a future in which nature and people thrive together.

Stay up to date on the issues, learn how you can speak up for nature and start using your outside voice on issues that matter to you!

View of SD capitol building from across Capitol Lake.
State Capitol View of South Dakota's capitol building from across Capitol Lake. © Christopher Boswell/iStock

Capitol Updates

March 8, 2024

Legislators concluded the 2024 session on March 7, save for one day reserved on March 25 to reconsider any bills vetoed by the governor. While things can always change before the end of the month, this is a good time to recap the highlights.

Grasslands are essential for so many reasons, and now we know that lawmakers agree. Nearly all South Dakota legislators voted in favor of a resolution recognizing the value of grassland ecosystems for water quality, agricultural production, carbon sequestration and more. If you haven’t thanked your lawmaker yet for voting in favor of this resolution, you can send your message today. 

The Nature Conservancy supported a proposal to invest in water quality projects, and although this bill did not pass, we remain committed to growing South Dakota’s investments in clean water and aquatic ecosystems. On a related note, the legislature appropriated slightly more than $130 million for water infrastructure projects using remaining federal funds available through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Interested in updating your vehicle license plates? Be on the lookout for new habitat conservation specialty plates and accompanying habitat conservation emblems, with proceeds from the latter benefitting efforts by the Department of Game, Fish and Parks to restore and improve habitat on private and public lands.

The Nature Conservancy also engaged with lawmakers to ensure effective protection and management of lands and waters can continue in South Dakota. We appreciate your support of our work!

February 16, 2024

South Dakota state lawmakers recently passed a resolution with near-unanimous support affirming the value of grasslands! Grasslands are the foundation of our state’s ranching economy, but they also benefit us by filtering our air and water, storing carbon in their root systems, providing habitat for wildlife, sustaining tourism and more. We thank state legislators for recognizing the importance of healthy grasslands. 

We are fast-approaching the end of the 38-day legislative session, and lawmakers are moving quickly to keep up with upcoming deadlines. Next week is the last day for bills to pass through their house of origin, known as Crossover Day. Bills that have not passed at this time will not be enacted this session. 

January 30, 2024

Just three weeks of the 2024 legislative session have passed by, but it feels like more! State lawmakers are moving at a breakneck pace and have introduced more than 430 bills. More are likely still to come before this week's deadlines for bill introductions, and TNC is tracking issues related to public land acquisition and management, funding for conservation and habitat, investments in water infrastructure and more. As South Dakotans, we must speak up for nature. Stay in touch with your legislators and encourage them to vote in support of conservation.

January 1, 2024

It’s that time of year! The South Dakota Legislature is about to convene for the 2024 legislative session, which will begin on January 9 in Pierre. Session will kick off with a State of the State address from Gov. Kristi Noem, after which legislators have about two months to complete the work of the session. We invite you to sign up below to stay up to date with what we’re doing at the Capitol and TNC’s work across South Dakota. 

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On the 2024 Agenda

  • land and water icon.

    Protect Healthy Land & Water

    The great outdoors is central to the identity of South Dakota and in need of our protection. We must conserve our natural lands and waters for the future.

  • sun and thermometer icon.

    Advance Nature-Based Solutions

    Climate impacts are on the rise, from drier dry years and wetter wet years to warmer winters and tougher growing seasons. We need to take action, and nature provides a path.

  • food and water icon.

    Support Regenerative Agriculture

    Increasing demand for food is expected to put a lot of pressure on South Dakota producers. We can help them meet the challenge by implementing soil health practices that improve yields and make operations more resilient.

Protect Healthy Land & Water

In South Dakota, we’re leveraging policy to advance healthy working lands and protect our world-class public spaces. Driving state investments toward conservation supports the variety of plants and animals found in our state and their habitats. It also ripples outward and benefits our economy.

Revenue from hunting and fishing licenses, as well as park passes and other use fees, goes directly toward conservation. These fees generate tens of millions of dollars, demonstrating just how much people love South Dakota’s great outdoors. The Nature Conservancy encourages state leaders to reinvest this money in restoring wildlife habitat and safeguarding biodiversity  so people and nature can thrive.

Four bison graze in a prairie with a rainbow and pink sky behind them.
Healthy & Productive Grasslands South Dakota’s naturally productive lands provide clean water and wildlife habitat, as well as the foundation of our state’s cattle ranching industry. © Richard Hamilton Smith

More about Land Protection

  • Biodiversity is the interconnected, hugely varied web of species that make up the world we call home. Due to habitat loss and climate challenges, species across the planet’s ecosystems are dying out. Losing diversity in our ecosystems means that the intricate relationships between species that define the world as we know it are all at risk. Watch this short video to learn more.  

  • In a conservation easement, a landowner chooses to enter into an agreement to sell or donate certain rights associated with their property—often the right to subdivide or develop. Typically, a private organization or public agency accepts responsibility to uphold the terms of the easement that the landowner has agreed to. Conservation easements keep natural lands protected while allowing owners to retain many private property rights, including living on and using their land. In some cases, these easements also provide landowners with tax benefits.

  • South Dakota’s naturally productive lands provide clean water and wildlife habitat, and they serve as the foundation of our state’s cattle ranching industry. But sound conservation strategies require long-term thinking and sustainable funding. In South Dakota, we can support ranchers who are doing right by nature by advocating for increased support of state and federal agencies who work arm-in-arm with producers to make their operations work better for nature and their profitability.

Advance Natural Climate Solutions

Extreme drought, challenging growing seasons and increasingly favorable conditions for invasive pests are all evidence of the shifts in our climate that are affecting people, nature and our economy. During this critical time for our planet, TNC is seeking to tackle emissions by advancing better energy policy and promoting the best carbon capture technology available: nature.

Closeup of prairie grasses blowing in the wind in a vast prairie.
Natural Solutions Two-thirds of South Dakotans are worried that global warming will harm future generations. It’s up to us to take action for nature and our future. © Richard Hamilton Smith

In addition to cleaning our air, filtering our water, providing productive lands and offering habitat for wildlife, South Dakota’s grasslands and forests capture and store massive amounts of carbon. Nature’s climate solutions are time-tested, inexpensive and ready to roll out. Investing in nature gives us the ability to create more resilient communities while providing carbon storage and other benefits.

While we leverage nature to capture carbon and make our communities more resilient, we must advance the clean energy transition. The wide-open landscapes of South Dakota offer tremendous opportunities to take advantage of renewable energy. But to expand nature and energy solutions, we must first let our lawmakers know why these issues are so important and why they should invest in them.

More on Climate Solutions

  • Climate change is already affecting South Dakota’s forests, farms and people. Longer growing seasons have given invasive pests, like the mountain pine beetle, a leg up in the Black Hills forests. Drier dry years are impacting agricultural outputs across the state. And two-thirds of South Dakotans are worried that global warming will harm future generations. It’s up to us to take action.

  • Renewable energy offers an important pathway for tackling climate change and building a sustainable future for all. But how we do it—and where we put all those wind turbines and solar panels—is important. Site Renewables Right is a tool developed by The Nature Conservancy to guide energy development away from important wildlife habitats and natural areas. By using this tool, energy developers can advance clean energy while preserving the most significant lands, waters and wildlife in our state.

  • Nature can help us mitigate and adapt to some of the greatest challenges we face. Nature-based solutions are strategies that leverage our lands and waters to help tackle issues like water and food security, biodiversity, health and well-being, and extreme weather events.

Support Regenerative Agriculture

Farming and ranching are proud traditions in South Dakota, and to maintain our role as leaders in the industry, we must keep our crop and ranch lands naturally productive. We can do this by advancing practices that restore the health of our soils and grazing lands, so they can feed a growing world and remain productive and profitable for the long term.

Cattle standing in a prairie.
Grass for Water How we use our lands directly impacts the health of our waters, and employing practices that build soil health can make a significant positive difference for water quality in South Dakota. © Richard Hamilton Smith

Ranching has an especially important role in South Dakota. Approximately half of all private and public lands in the state are made up of grasslands, which filter our air and water while providing immense carbon storage benefits. Improving the health of these lands would improve outcomes for wildlife, ranchers and the entire agricultural economy in South Dakota. Despite the myriad benefits associated with regenerative farming and ranching practices, many producers experience barriers to implementing these practices. We need South Dakota lawmakers’ help to create incentives that make these practices more accessible to conservation-minded landowners.

About Regenerative Agriculture

  • Agriculture is big business in South Dakota. Indeed, ag accounts for nearly 30% of the state’s economic output and, in all, contributes about $32 billion to the economy. But keeping South Dakota’s ag lands healthy and productive isn’t just important for our economy; it’s also critical to keeping our natural landscapes intact so they can continue to be enjoyed by anglers, birders, hunters and others.

  • Soil health is an important factor impacting water quality. How we use our lands directly impacts the health of our waters, and employing practices that build soil health can make a significant positive difference for water quality in South Dakota. Regenerative farming practices like cover cropping and reduced tillage, as well as regenerative ranching practices like rotational grazing, are all important actions producers can take to improve the health of their lands and the health of South Dakota’s waters.

  • Grasslands need periods of both disturbance and rest to be their most healthy and productive. In the absence of natural cycles of disturbance historically caused by bison grazing and grassland fires, cattle can provide this important service in the form of regenerative grazing. Many South Dakota ranchers are already employing these types of practices. By prioritizing native species, following rotational grazing schedules and allowing periods of recovery, ranchers can help restore and improve grasslands while keeping them just as—if not more—productive.