Government Agencies Propose Conservation Area Along Missouri River

While a mass action suit is going on to court Wednesday, the federal government is asking some farmers and others with land along the Missouri to become part of a plan to preserve and restore thousands of acres along the waterway.
But the idea has some farmers and politicians nervous about the real impact of the project.
Siouxland News Reporter Beairshelle Edmé shares the details of the draft headed to its final stages.
Damage from recent flooding, engineering practices and a century's worth of natural changes are prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Park Service to take action.

The agencies want to create two conservation areas along the Missouri throughout Southeast South Dakota and Northeast Nebraska.

In Elk Point lies part of the 79 mile area for the Ponca Bluff Conservation area. Like the Niobrara Confluence, Fish and Wildlife officials believe that this project will revitalize wildlife, but also bring the natural state of both areas.

Aside from conservation, the department also believes the project will increase tourism and boost local economy.

"We'll work with willing landowners, this is not, there's not eminent domain involved, no condemnation whatsoever. We would openly work with willing landowners, meaning if a landowner is interested in this program, we'd take a look at their land see where it falls within the priority area especially, you know, if it's pasture land or --- land land or forested land along the river or even up into the Bluffs that's the kind of stuff we'd be interested in." said Wayne Nelson-Stastny, Missouri River natural resources committee coordinator with USFWS.

But one local lawmaker isn't buying it.

State Senator Dan Lederman (R- District 16) believes it's a land-grabbing effort.

"When you take 190,000 acres of farm ground out of production, you do a lot of things. Number one you hurt the farm economy so all the different businesses that rely on selling inputs for agriculture they're hurt by that type of plan. Then you have the tax-base. All the counties that are affected in the state as well and schools are affected when that land is taken down a notch in the amount of taxes its producing for those city, local governments," said Lederman.

Sponsoring agencies disagree.

"In no way shape or form is this meant to infringe on property rights. In fact, I see it as a way of enchaining property values in this area for the haul," Nelson-Stastny responded to accusations by local politicians, like Lederman.

Now it's up to landowners if they choose to join the effort.

Officials say they've spent more than 6 months reaching out to get public opinion... and so far have received mixed reviews.

Despite that, they plan to move forward with the conservation project in the next several years.

If you have a story you want to tell or an incident you think needs to be investigated, our reporter Beairshelle Edmé wants to hear about it. OR