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The proposed Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area is a voluntary program designed to protect the environment along the Missouri River between Pickstown and Sioux City. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.
The proposed Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area is a voluntary program designed to protect the environment along the Missouri River between Pickstown and Sioux City. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.

River Conservation — Where's the Downside?

Sep 18, 2013


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service have a pretty good idea. (No, not closing down the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery in Spearfish; that's a dumb idea.) The feds would like to create the Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area along the Missouri River between Pickstown and Sioux City. They'd like to purchase land and conservation easements from willing landowners in South Dakota and Nebraska to "conserve important wildlife habitats, increase quality recreational opportunities, preserve sensitive cultural sites, and maintain sustainable farming and ranching operations in the region."

Let's see: landowners get paid, critters get cover, hunters and kayakers get better scenery...where's the downside?

Senator Dan Lederman (R-16/Dakota Dunes) must see a downside. He's hollering that the Niobrara/Ponca conservation plan is a nefarious "federal land grab" that "threatens private property rights." Lederman's conservative henchblog is promulgating accusations that the feds haven't given affected landowners enough notice or enough time to comment on the plan.

I can only assume that Lederman's attacks are motivated by political considerations. They certainly aren't motivated by facts or a consistent commitment to conservation or property rights.

The Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service have been gathering public input on the Niobrara/Ponca project since winter 2012. The current comment period, which ends September 30, is actually an extension (announced last June) of the original comment period, which was opened on April 2. The feds have more than doubled the comment period to give citizens six months to study and weigh in on the project's draft environmental impact statement.

The feds have invited public scrutiny in many ways. In addition to the usual notices in the Federal Register, they have sent landowners postcards with information on the conservation easement plan. They have held two rounds of public meetings throughout the project area. When the April meetings got snowed out, FWS and NPS rescheduled. They're not exactly keeping the Niobrara/Ponca project secret.

As for the threat to private property rights, I can't figure out what Senator Lederman is talking about. Everything the feds say about the Niobrara/Ponca plan speaks of working with willing, voluntary landowners. FWS and NPS can't use eminent domain to force landowners to sell... unlike TransCanada, which uses eminent domain to build its Keystone pipeline system, a project Lederman and friends wholeheartedly support.

If you don't like the Niobrara/Ponca conservation plan, if you still want to be able to drain and plant crops and build industrial feedlots on your land, go ahead: the feds can't make you sell them your land or grant you a conservation easement for this project.

But if you own land near the Missouri or Niobrara, and if you've been sparing some prairie grass and wetlands the plow, and if you'd like some compensation for taking a pass on six-dollar corn, the feds have a good deal for you, for river critters, and for the rest of us... if, and only if, you are willing.

Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard every other Monday on this site. 

Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and has taught math, English, speech, and French at high schools East and West River.


06:20 pm - Wed, September 18 2013
dave tunge said:
Yes, landowners get paid. By whom? I would guess they will receive payment directly from a loan the feds get utilizing the borrowing power of us taxpayers that puts us further upside down.
Downside is spending money we don't have......where's the upside to that?
08:20 am - Thu, September 19 2013
larry kurtz said:
Preservation for the love of nature instead of allowing humanity to degrade riparian zones even further: the upside of spending money you don't have to worry about, Dave.

The Dakota Grassland Conservation Area is an even larger preservation initiative:

“Landowner interest is very high,” says Harris Hoistad, a refuge manager within the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area. “We have a list of people waiting for us to work on their easement offer, and the infusion of Migratory Bird Conservation Commission funds has helped to get us off to a great start. We have a long way to go to reach the goals of the project, but we are making progress.”
Rewild the West.
09:03 am - Thu, September 19 2013
Dave, we do have the money. Check out this link from the article:

This project is not deficit spending. The money comes from Duck Stamps and from the Land and Conservation Fund, which comes from an excise tax on offshore oil drilling. Your tax dollars will not be harmed in the making of these conservation areas.
09:03 am - Thu, September 19 2013
Ed said:
I got paid on two quarters of land in the early 1960's for easements on my deeded land and it was the biggest mistake I EVER MADE. Can't do anything about it now (my fault) never take a payment for any thing perpetual you will regret it.. Land was worth 60 per acre then and I was paid in 1960 dollars and guess what real-estate taxes are higher now than what I got paid then and that payment was once and my taxes are every year. So now you know what I would not recommend anyone do. There is know way I can care for the land in 2013 manner now that the govt has an easement. Stupid on my part.
01:37 pm - Sat, September 21 2013
Robert J said:
It would be nice if SOUTH DAKOTA Magazine would feature authors who actually lived in South Dakota.
01:43 pm - Sat, September 21 2013
Robert J said:
How does diverting duck stamp and conservation funds to this scheme NOT affect federal spending?

Unless you can show that Duck Stamp and L&C revenues will increase, then taking money from those sources to fund this new program must necessrily decrease funds available to current projects. Of course, no federal program is cut (or rarely so) , so we'll have to borrow MORE to cover the current and the proposed programs.

That's the way that the federal government operates.

To suggest that this new conservation proposal won't cost any more is ludicrous.
03:18 pm - Thu, September 26 2013
Grace L. Coleman said:
The plan would reduce tax revenue of each county, because once tied up in a Conservation Easement, it is no longer taxed as "productive" land; approximately 20% of current taxes received would go away.

NPD cannot take care of the land as well as private owners have for hundreds of year. Tthere is not enough money, staff or vested interest in maintaining the property. Parks are closing early this year due to lack of funds.
06:27 am - Fri, September 27 2013
larry kurtz said:
The Niobrara is endangered. The Platte is recovering because landowners are entering conservation easements:
06:35 am - Fri, September 27 2013
I'm sorry to hear that, Ed. If you own land in the Niobrara/Ponca area, just shut the door on the NPS/FWS land agents. It's that simple. Contrary to what Sen. Lederman says, the feds won't grab your land.
06:40 am - Fri, September 27 2013
Grace, parks and open space tend to increase property values and the taxes they generate. If your goal is to see people paying more taxes (I didn't think Republicans like Lederman wanted that) to make local government bigger (again, Republicans?), keeping some land open and green and scenic is a good idea. Conservation supports hunting and tourism, adding dollars to the local economy. Plus, this open space is created entirely with federal dollars, meaning counties don't have to wait to break even.
07:24 am - Fri, September 27 2013
Ed said:
I couldn't agree with you more Cory to bad I wasn't given that advice when I was younger. Just trying to help the young ones of today. Don't give idiots an easement.

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