The majority of South Dakota lies covered in snow these days – welcome precipitation for a state that has been locked in a drought for more than a year.
I count myself among most South Dakotans who enjoy having snow around, as long as it stays in one place. Those moments are fleeting however, as our big prairie sky is almost always producing a big prairie wind. Give us all a day or two of blowing snow, and we soon begin to long for spring.
Invariably, when South Dakota is gripped by a frozen blast of cold and snow, my mind drifts to those pioneers who settled this land in the latter half of the 19th century. How did they make it through the winter on a treeless prairie? And when those first warm southerly breezes arrived in March, what possessed them to stay?
The U.S. Government was probably thinking the same thing when it doled out land to those individuals from around the world who took advantage of the Homestead Act and other land acts. Part of the agreement was that for a 160 acre claim, a person had to work the land, build a house and live on the homestead for five years.
Many of these homesteaders also planted trees as did their descendants. In turn, the care that these hearty souls poured in to their trees came full circle, as root systems were established for young ash, elm and box elders. With each ring of growth, those trees began to protect and sustain the farms of those who planted them, and farms and communities began to take root in the prairie sod.
Save for two years at graduate school in Arizona, I’ve lived my entire life in South Dakota, and I take pride in a state that was settled by a hardy brand of folk who have always had a deep connection to the land. As an outdoor writer, I am drawn to explore this relationship between human caregivers and the landscape and wildlife that give so much back in return.
A year or so ago my phone rang with a call from my father. There seemed to be a story, he said, out east of town. He thought I should check it out.
He gave me a name and phone number, and I made plans to call when time allowed. But one thing led to another, and it was weeks before I made good on my intentions to contact this individual.
When I did, he informed me that the window for the story had likely passed.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what was it about?”
A half-mile of trees, to be exact – a massive stand of hardwoods planted when folks first settled the ground over 100 years ago.
“What happened to them?”
“They’re gone. Bulldozed. Looks like they’re going to plant it this spring.”
I made the trip out to look for myself, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say that the trees were never there in the first place. The wind of change had blown swiftly through this township in eastern South Dakota, and, sadly, it continues to blow today.
If you travel along any one of the grids of gravel roads in South Dakota, it is hard to ignore that this landscape is transforming before your very eyes.
It’s not just trees, either: piles of dirt line freshly trenched waterways to move snow melt and rain more quickly from point A to point B; miles of black, perforated plastic tubing stand coiled along field edges, ready for the tile knife; and acre upon acre of native prairie – ground that has never seen a plow – lies bare.
And then there are the cattails – those thick, stubborn stands of heavy cover that sprout up where moisture gathers. Burned, mowed, plowed, trenched – there is a war on cattails these days, and one battle has hit particularly close to home.
Growing up, I had the fortune of being able to literally walk out my front door, cross the road and begin pheasant hunting. I missed more than I hit in those days, but my odds of bringing a rooster home increased significantly when the weather turned cold.
The first blanket of snow caused every pheasant in the section to congregate in a winding stand of cattails that was visible from my driveway, and I hit the thick cover buoyed with knowledge that there were heart-pounding flushes in my near-future.
This past fall, those cattails were mowed then baled and the ground plowed deep. An excavator made quick work of the waterway, so water will never collect in that slough bottom again.
Neither will cattails.
Neither will pheasants.
Neither will a hunter.
The landscape of eastern South Dakota is different than the one that ushered me through school and those first years as a hunter. It is different than the one that welcomed me home from Arizona just five years ago.
The evolution of a new South Dakota has its roots in a several factors: a strong commodity market; sky-rocketing land prices and cash rental rates; corn ethanol; subsidized crop insurance; advancements in agricultural technologies; and a Farm Bill that doesn’t provide competitive rates for conservation programs.
Some might say that broad changes are part of an inevitable march of progress in a state that depends heavily on agriculture to survive.
But can we really label this “progress” or “improvement” when the diversity of our landscape is being compromised? When hunters and wildlife have fewer places to go? When “what’s best for the land” is replaced with “what’s best right now”?
The wind is howling rather wildly as I write this today, and the snow is blowing in circles out my window.
But relief will be here before long. Flocks of migrating waterfowl will begin to arrive on the first warm winds of spring and settle on those temporary and seasonal wetlands that remain; prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse will dance where grass still stands; and rooster pheasants will stand and crow where a diverse landscape has survived.
South Dakota is changing, but my hope is that our roots still run deep to a place where conservation means giving a little of ourselves for the greater good of the land. And her people.
Author, John Pollmann is a life-long bird hunter and freelance outdoor writer from South Dakota. A 2012 recipient of the John Madson Fellowship from the Outdoor Writers Association of America, Mr. Pollmann is a regular contributor to the Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader; provides a bi-monthly report on South Dakota for the Minnesota Outdoor News; and is the waterfowl columnist for the Aberdeen (SD) American News Outdoor Forum. Other writing credits include the pages of magazines for Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl and American Waterfowler.
In addition to outdoor writing, Mr. Pollmann holds an advanced degree in music and currently teaches at Pipestone Area School in Pipestone, MN. He is an active member of Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and was recently named to the country’s first conservation pro-staff with Vanishing Paradise.
Mr. Pollmann lives in Dell Rapids, SD with his wife Amber, their son Miles and a yellow Labrador named Murphy.
10 Responses to “Sportsmen Take the High Road on Climate Change”
OK guys. Remember that while climate change is happening and earth is warming, MAN has little to do with it. Old Sol is the main cause. We should not be paying billions of dollars that do nothing to effect the earth warming or cooling. More government and stupid laws and taxes are NOT what we need. Common sense is important and do not let TRCP get involved in more taxes just to feel good. No green taxes.
Actually, Gerry, human emissions are the primary reason our planet is warming. I’m happy to point you toward the relevant science. In fact, just swing by the Conservation Hawks website and look at “Climate” under the issues tab. There are links to a number of the major scientific organizations who work on climate change.
I take it your a world renowned climate scientist? What do you mean man has little to do with it? Sure, solar activity is a factor but it doesn’t end there.
Look at the science. Our CO2 emissions exacerbates climate change. Do you spit science in the face in any other regard? You think gravity is fake? Do you think sitting close to the television makes you go blind? Did dinosaurs really exist?
There ought to be a law against ignorance and we should tax stupidity . Instead of spending billions on getting one man to mars we should take care of our own planet, it has everything we need.
Gerry, above is correct. What research can you point to that the warming of the Earth is caused by man? Also, what other research has found that man can reverse it?
Secondly, look at the title to this blog post. What in the world causes you to title it this? I do not recall one syllable in the President’s speach mention sportsmen. In fact, this guy is currently engaged in an effort that favors stripping many of the rights we hold dear. President Obama is no friend of a true sportsman or especially not an informed conservationalist. If the TRCP is truly just a lobbyist group, and on top of that, a lobbyist group jumping on the Obama Bandwagon instead of standing for responsible hunters and fishermen and their values, COUNT ME OUT.
TRCP has taken a stance on climate-change, as they very well should. The President dedicated a part of his inauguration speech to the issue. Mr. Geer simply pointed that out. How is that jumping on the Obama bandwagon? Did you even read the article- or did you just look at the title, and got all defensive and red-faced about it? This article isn’t about gun rights. It’s about climate change.
Sorry J Austin, you sound like a poorly-informed “conservationalist.”
Right on, Bill ! It made me hopeful. I think we have to push him to do it, though. The fossil fuel industry is very powerful in DC, and Obama could give up on it and move to the next issue he thinks he can get a legislative victory on, Sportsmen should remember that in addition to the effects on fish, wildlife and ecosystems rising temperatures are having, the extraction of fossil fuels is occupying more and more of our public lands and taking away our hunting and fishing opportunities.
For a look at how climate change is making an impact on sportsmen, watch the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYx_ncjJV0U&feature=share&list=UUxvwuxKu9s68TXLpK3ZUe8g
I commend the TRCP for the ambitious conservation objectives set out in its 2013 Conservation Policy Agenda). I was particularly pleased to see a new “Water” section focusing on safeguarding instream flows. I also liked this bullet point:
– Promote non-structural flood control alternatives and improve post-flood response, especially in headwater streams
I don’t know if you saw the recent Associated Press story about failing levees and structurally-deficient dams. Unfortunately, the AP reporters neglected to point out the opportunities to employ non-structural solutions to this problem.
Looks like progress. The President talking about taking action, the folks in denial moving from “it isn’t happening” to “we aren’t doing it. ”
I’d hope the notion that we need to prepare for a warmer earth (because it is unmistakeably warmer) would unite everyone – especially sportsmen – to action. Action to reduce our effect and to help wildlife adapt to a warmer world.