Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

South Dakota’s invasive tree problem choking out grasslands

BROOKINGS, S.D. – South Dakota faces a pressing issue as woody plants encroach upon its grasslands, displacing native vegetation. To tackle this challenge head-on, SDSU Extension has secured a significant $1 million contribution agreement from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The funding will be allocated primarily towards supporting a dedicated field specialist who will collaborate with landowners to identify areas at risk and develop strategies to safeguard their land.

Building upon the ongoing efforts of SDSU Extension and partner organizations, this initiative aims to mitigate the spread of woody plants. Notable contributions include the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition’s prescribed fire trainings, led by SDSU Extension Natural Resources and Wildlife Field Specialist Pete Bauman, as well as the Mid-Missouri River Prescribed Burn Association, led by SDSU Extension Range Management Field Specialist Sean Kelly in south-central South Dakota.

While the issue of encroaching trees choking grasslands is evident along the Missouri River corridor, it remains less recognized in other regions. Even among those who acknowledge the problem, concerns persist regarding the use of fire as a management tool. Consequently, one of the primary objectives is to raise awareness and dispel misconceptions surrounding controlled burning as an effective strategy.

Ultimately, the goal is to establish a burn association modeled after the successful Mid-Missouri River Prescribed Burn Association. However, the immediate focus is to educate and engage South Dakotans, emphasizing the importance of preserving grasslands before additional losses occur. By taking proactive measures, South Dakota aims to combat woody plant encroachment and ensure the long-term conservation of its valuable grassland ecosystems.

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Jerek Dufner

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