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MDF Receives Grant to Hire Grasslands Habitat Partnership Coordinator

MDF Receives Grant to Hire Grasslands Habitat Partnership Coordinator

The Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) was awarded a $270,000 grant to hire a habitat partnership coordinator in the Dakota Grasslands region through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Northern Great Plains program. The new full time staff position within MDF will work with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), North Dakota Game and Fish, South Dakota Game, Fish, & Parks, Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, and Wyoming Game and Fish Department as well as industry and conservation partners. The partners will match the grant funding level through in-kind volunteer work, donated use of heavy equipment, and other existing habitat restoration funds. Led by the dedicated MDF staff coordinator, the partners will increase opportunities to implement conservation projects to restore habitat for mule deer, sage grouse, pronghorn, and other wildlife in the Dakota Grasslands project area of western North Dakota, eastern Montana, northwestern South Dakota, and northeastern Wyoming.

“In the past five years the Mule Deer Foundation in North Dakota has been initiating projects with private landowners and bringing in partners from industry and volunteer workforces. As a result, 25 miles of fence have been removed or modified to wildlife friendly designs, and in 2021 a project to reduce juniper encroachment affected over 1,500 acres of habitat,” said MDF Director of Conservation Steve Belinda. “The Dakota Grasslands habitat partnership coordinator will be our first conservation staff person with an emphasis on the eastern range of mule deer, which is dominated by private land with intermixed federal and state lands. We are excited about the potential with federal, state, and private landowners on cross-boundary projects that improve the critical mixed-grass ecosystems found in the project area.”

The Dakota Grasslands is a key focal area for NFWF’s Northern Great Plains program and consists of grasslands and sagebrush dominated habitats that are highly productive for pronghorn, mule deer, sage grouse, and numerous other grassland and sagebrush obligate species. State and federal agency partners have highlighted the need for cross-agency, partner coordination and planning for cumulative efforts to occur in the region. MDF’s Dakota Grasslands habitat partnership coordinator will provide critical new capacity to network across state, federal, tribal, and private lands to implement landscape-scale habitat conservation in the region. Priority projects will include grassland habitat restoration through conifer removal, cheatgrass control/eradication, rangeland fire restoration, grazing management, and fencing modifications. Riparian restoration activities will focus on restoring wet meadow or riparian areas through structure placement (e.g., Zeedyk structures and beaver mimicry) and habitat improvements.

“Mule Deer Foundation chapters and partners have been active in the Dakotas for several years, organizing volunteer workdays to modify fencing to wildlife-friendly designs, remove invasive junipers, and restore riparian areas,” said Marshall Johnson, MDF’s director of field operations who also leads MDF’s efforts in the Dakotas. “Having an MDF habitat partnership coordinator in this region who can take the lead on developing and implementing these projects in coordination with our existing partners will significantly increase the amount of work we can get done together. This will benefit mule deer but also hundreds of other species that depend on our native grasslands.”

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