Landowner and Habitat Programs
The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks values and appreciates the partnerships we have with landowners across the state. They help sustain our wildlife and promulgate our hunting heritage. South Dakota is 80 percent privately owned and landowners play a significant role in providing wildlife habitat and outdoor opportunities like hunting and fishing.
The department offers a variety of programs available for private landowners to help create wildlife habitat, public hunting access and reduce wildlife damage.
For more information about landowner programs, check out Habitat Pays. Habitat Pays has been a joint effort with the Department of Agriculture since 2015; connecting farmers and ranchers to the appropriate habitat resources and helping them implement wildlife habitat where it makes the most sense.
GFP offers cost share to private landowners interested in developing wildlife habitat on their land through multiple habitat programs. Contact one of our Private Land Habitat Biologists to learn more about any of our private land wildlife habitat programs or to evaluate your land and help you develop the best habitat to help you meet your land management goals.
Second Century Working Lands Habitat Program
The Second Century Working Lands Habitat Program provides a short-term, working lands conservation alternative to cropping marginal lands anywhere in South Dakota by adding important grassland habitat for wildlife to the landscape while also providing forage for livestock by allowing program acres to be managed with haying and grazing.
Participants in the Second Century Working Lands Habitat Program agree to establish a grass and flower mix on cropland acres for 5 years, and in return receive free seed and a one-time payment of $150 per acre at the beginning of the contract. Starting during the second growing season, participants can hay or graze the enrolled lands between August 1 and March 1, with annual haying limited to either half the enrolled acres every year, or the entire acreage every other year.
Lands enrolled in the program are not required to be open to unlimited public hunting, although these acres are eligible to be enrolled in the Walk-In Area public hunting access program through GFP. Currently, landowners interested in enrolling their Second Century Working Lands Habitat acres in the Walk-In Area program can receive a one-time, up-front signing bonus of $10 per acre, per year to provide free public hunting access. On top of the signing bonus, they also receive the annual access incentive payments provided through GFP’s Walk-In Area program.
Food Habitat Plot Program
- Free food plot seed is available from GFP each spring (corn, sorghum, brood mix).
- Annual payment of $20 per acre for food plot acres ($40 per acre if planted on Walk-In Areas).
- Food plots must remain unharvested through winter.
- Maximum of 10 acres per quarter section.
- Maximum enrollment of 30 acres per landowner.
- Payments are made in February.
Woody Habitat Program
- Woody habitat plantings are designed to provide ground level cover during winter conditions for resident wildlife.
- Plantings must be at least 8 rows wide and a minimum of 1 acre in size.
- GFP will cost-share 75% of total project costs, up to $10,000 per planting.
- One-time payment made upon project completion.
Working Wetland and Grassland Program
In addition to technical assistance, the Wetland & Grassland Habitat Program offers a variety of cost-share options for private landowners to implement conservation practices that benefit wildlife while meeting the needs of working grasslands.
- Wetland Restorations
- Wetland Creations and Enhancements
- Water Development
- Grassland Restorations
- Grassland & Grazing Enhancements
- Riparian Pastures
- Wildlife Friendly Fence
Nesting Habitat Program
- Creates grassland nesting habitat for ground nesting birds like pheasants and ducks.
- Landowners are reimbursed for 100% of the costs incurred for seed and planting (up to $125/acre).
- One-time payment made upon project completion.
- Cost-share is not available on CRP or WRP plantings.
Habitat Fencing Programs
- Programs protect new or existing habitat from livestock, assist with setting up rotational grazing paddocks, replace woven wire fences with wildlife-friendly fences, etc..
- Landowners are typically reimbursed for 100% of their fencing material costs.
- One-time payment made upon project completion.
GFP leases public hunting access on private land across the state to maintain South Dakota’s rich hunting heritage through the following programs. Contact our staff in your part of the state to learn more about any of these programs.
Walk-in Area Program (WIA)
The WIA program leases private land with valuable hunting opportunity for unlimited public hunting access (foot-traffic only) in exchange for an annual payment and immunity from non-negligent liability.The Walk-In Area program began in 1988 leasing public hunting access from 26 landowners on 23,161 acres, and has grown to partnering with over 1,400 landowners who provide public hunting access to over 1.2 million acres of private land. A Legislative Commemoration was issued in 2018 commending the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and the landowners of South Dakota on 30 years of partnership to provide public hunting access through the Walk-In Area Program. More information.
Cooperative Management Areas (COOP Areas)
Similar to a Walk-In Area, but a COOP allows hunters to drive on harvested cropland for the purposes of placing & retrieving waterfowl decoys. Hunters with a disabled hunting permit are also allowed to drive on these areas to hunt any game. All other access is limited to foot traffic only an no hunting is allowed while farm machinery is present.
Controlled Hunting Access Program (CHAP)
CHAP is a cooperative effort between private landowners and Game, Fish and Parks to provide limited public hunting access on private land Landowners who enroll in CHAP control the amount of hunter use at a given time, set special provisions for use, and place restrictions on game species allowed to be harvested. For more information or assistance, visit the Habitat Pays website.
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (C.R.E.P.)
Administered by the USDA's Farm Service Agency and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, this program is a "state-sponsored" Conservation Reserve Program providing additional, undisturbed habitat for wildlife that is open to public hunting and fishing access in the James River watershed.
Elk Hunting Access Program (EHAP)
EHAP's purpose is to increase hunter harvest; specifically on private lands with higher than landowner-tolerable elk use. Private land anywhere in the Black Hills elk hunting units will be considered. Access to the property (how many, when, and where) is controlled by the enrolled landowner. This allows the hunting to take place where the best chance of success is, as well as with the best chance to diminish elk depredation. GFP does not sign the boundaries (as with walk-in areas), nor are maps of the enrolled properties made available. GFP provides the contact information for participating landowners upon request. License holders are responsible for making contact with the landowner, and making arrangements to hunt the enrolled property.
As a vast majority of South Dakota is privately owned; farmers, ranchers and other private landowners are the principal stewards of wildlife resources and the habitats in which they depend.
The Landowners Matter newsletter is printed and distributed twice a year; April 1 and October 1 and is mailed to approximately 14,000 South Dakota landowners.
The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks (GFP) Commission bi-annually establishes deer and pronghorn hunting seasons across South Dakota. In addition to providing recreational opportunity, deer and pronghorn hunting seasons are the primary tool available to affect population numbers. Management objectives strive to maximize sustainable recreational opportunity, while ensuring the population does not exceed the capacity of the land to support wildlife nor exceed the social tolerance in an area. Determining the social tolerance requires an understanding of stakeholder desires to increase, maintain or decrease deer and pronghorn populations across hunting units, and one of the most important stakeholder groups are landowners. Game, Fish & Parks staff use a variety of methods to solicit feedback from landowners and other stakeholders including conversations with individuals and public engagement meetings.
In addition, landowners are encouraged to provide feedback regarding deer and pronghorn populations by completing a landowner opinion form or contact staff directly. The most recent management objectives are found within the landowner opinion form as a reference and an example of these objectives is found below. The GFP Commission will establish hunting seasons for deer and pronghorn in 2021 for the next two years. Your input is appreciated and will be considered in staff recommendations for consideration by the GFP Commission.
GFP employs 27 full-time Wildlife Damage Specialists (WDS) within its comprehensive Wildlife Damage Management Program. These staff work directly with landowners and producers to reduce or alleviate wildlife damage such as: livestock losses, damage to stored-feed supplies and hay, damage to growing crops, as well as damage to personal property. These staff are trained to work with all types of wildlife damage, from coyotes to elk. They also conduct educational programs on sport trapping as a form of recreation and its importance in the management of furbearers. Programs can be given in classrooms, meeting halls, summer camps or other group meeting locations.
For more information on the below programs please contact your local Wildlife Damage Specialist.
Wildlife Damage Management Strategic Plan Available for Public Comment
In May 2019, the South Dakota Governor’s Office selected the Wildlife Management Institute to conduct an independent, 10-year historical review of South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks’ comprehensive Wildlife Damage Management (WDM) program. As a result of this review and staff discussions, Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) developed a strategic plan specific to the issues of wildlife damage management and GFP is seeking input on the plan.
Within each of these goals is a number of strategies and associated action items to identify specific tasks and expected completion dates. Much of the plan centers on increasing outreach and public input opportunities and measuring customer satisfaction. Other action items deal with training and mentoring staff, prioritizing staff time on specific duties and ongoing aggressive and preventative coyote removal to reduce livestock loss.
Wildlife Damage Management Meetings
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks invites you to attend one of four virtual listening sessions with landowners and producers across the state. If you’ve experienced wildlife damage on your property or operation, we want to hear how we can modify our current programs and services to better meet the needs of landowners and producers. This is an opportunity to discuss what services are working and what areas need improvement. Each virtual listening session will cover topics related to the respective geographic areas.
Additional information can be found regarding the schedule and listening opportunities.
Review of Wildlife Damage Management Program
In May 2019, the South Dakota Governor’s Office selected the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) to conduct an independent, 10-year historical review of South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks’(GFP) comprehensive Wildlife Damage Management (WDM) program. The review was intended to examine program components related to Animal Damage Control (ADC) (i.e. coyote, fox, prairie dog and nuisance beaver control) and Game Damage Management (GDM) (i.e. damage to property caused by game animals, primarily deer, elk, geese and turkeys). The review was to examine the history and evolution of the WDM program; current organizational structure; budgets and revenue sources; public opinion surveys; statutes, regulations, policies, and procedures; communication efforts; and overall effectiveness.The complete report is available here.
Prairie Dog Control
GFP will provide direct control of prairie dogs that have encroached onto private property from adjacent public lands. To be eligible, landowners must have a minimum of 10 acres of actual prairie colony and must be within one mile of the public land boundary. Tribal property or municipality properties are not public lands. If you have questions about prairie dog control from GFP, please call 605.394.2391. Register for the Prairie Control Program.
Beaver and Nuisance Animal Control
GFP will provide direct control of beavers for landowners or livestock producers that are experiencing damage caused by beavers. However, for problems with beaver damage inside city limits, people are encouraged to contact their local city officials for these types of requests. GFP only provides technical advice in these situations. For damage caused from raccoon, skunks, mink, and other nuisance wildlife species, GFP can provide technical assistance and loan live-traps for people outside of city limits. Every situation is unique, and GFP staff working cooperatively with the affected landowner will determine the most effective approach. Contact your local wildlife damage specialist for assistance.
Canada Goose Damage Assistance
GFP has several programs and services available to assist landowners and producers that experience damage to growing-crops from Canada geese. The most popular service is the installation of temporary electric fence which serves as an effective barrier to flightless geese during the summer months, which GFP will install around growing soybeans. GFP also offers up to $5,000 worth of cost-share assistance to plant protective buffer-strips around growing-crops, which protect the larger field from Canada goose damage. These buffer-strips may be wheat, alfalfa, or native grasses which create a visual barrier so the geese are discouraged from entering the cropfield. GFP may also provide up to $5,000 of cost-share assistance to construct woven wire fence along the edge of wetlands which prohibit access to the cropfields when the birds are flightless. GFP provides direct assistance when Canada geese are causing damage to growing crops or causing other issues on private lands; utilizing tools such as hazing, temporary fencing, alternate feeding sites or egg addling. GFP may also authorize the affected landowner a permit which allows the landowner to lethally remove a small number of Canada geese that are causing crop damage. These permits serve as an effective form of hazing and can haze the remaining birds away from the immediate area. Every situation is unique and GFP staff, working cooperatively with the affected landowner, will determine the most effective approach.
Deer Damage Assistance
GFP has several programs and services available to assist landowners and producers with deer damage. GFP offers up to $10,000 worth of cost-share assistance to construct permanent protective stackyards or can provide protective, portable panels that protect stored livestock-feeds (i.e. hay, corn, silage, etc.) from deer damage during the winter months. These two programs are very popular and provide long-term solutions. GFP also provides direct assistance when deer are causing damage to growing crops, shelter-belts and other issues on private lands by utilizing hazing, temporary fencing, short-stop baiting, and in some situations, lethal control and/or depredation hunts. Every situation is unique and GFP staff, working cooperatively with the affected landowner will determine the most effective approach.
Elk Damage Assistance
GFP has several programs and services available to assist landowners and producers with elk damage. GFP offers up to $15,000 worth of cost-share assistance to construct permanent protective stackyards or can provide protective, portable panels to protect stored livestock-feeds (i.e. hay, corn, silage, etc.) from elk damage during the winter months. These two programs are very popular and provide long-term solutions. GFP also offers up to $15,000 worth of fencing materials and protective cable that when installed correctly can alleviate damage to fences from elk crossing them. GFP offers up to $8,000 of cost-share assistance to landowners for growing-season food-plots where landowners have elk feeding on alfalfa fields or other growing crops. Landowners may also be eligible for up to $4,000 of cost-share assistance for hay land contracts. These contracts are for grasslands that are annually hayed by landowners, not grazed by livestock and have elk feeding upon these areas. GFP also provides direct assistance when elk are causing damage to growing crops or causing other issues on private lands by utilizing hazing, temporary fencing, short-stop baiting, and in some situations, lethal control and/or depredation hunts. Every situation is unique and GFP staff, working cooperatively with the affected landowner, will determine the most effective approach.
GFP will provide direct control (i.e. trapping, snaring, calling, aerial hunting, etc.) of coyotes and red fox to livestock producers or landowners that request assistance with livestock loss issues or livestock protection requests from predators. GFP operates an aggressive predator control program and cooperatively works with thousands of livestock producers and landowners across South Dakota, to resolve these problems. Every situation is unique and GFP staff working cooperatively with the affected landowner will determine the most effective approach. Contact your local wildlife damage specialist for assistance.
Turkey Damage Assistance
GFP has several programs and services available to assist landowners and producers with damage caused from turkeys. The most popular service is the installation of protective netting which is installed on bales of oats, silage, etc. which GFP will install GFP also provides direct assistance when turkeys are causing damage or other issues on private lands by utilizing hazing, temporary fencing, and alternate feeding sites and in some situations, lethal control and/or depredation hunts. Every situation is unique and GFP staff, working cooperatively with the affected landowner will determine the most effective approach.
One of GFP's primary challenges in wildlife management is working with agriculture producers to minimize the impact that wildlife has on their operations.
There are a number of methods for deterring wildlife from causing damage, including: create alternate feeding sites, temporary and permanent fencing, and hazing wildlife away from an area.
When other methods fail, GFP and private landowners may turn to hunters to help reduce the discourage wildlife causing damage.
South Dakota residents may sign up for a potential depredation hunt in December. If there is a need, a hunt may occur anytime from December through March.
Registration begins December 1, 8 a.m. CST