Ask almost anyone in South Dakota who holds the reins when it comes to managing the state's game, fish and parks, and you'll almost surely hear the reasonable answer that it is the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department.

And it is true that the state plays a major role in raising revenue through taxes and licenses, which it then spends to provide land and lakes upon which to hunt and fish, and wild game and aquatic animals to pursue once there.

But those who fully understand the complex equation of how hunting and fishing are preserved and protected know that there are two other critical components in keeping hunting and fishing opportunities available to outdoorsmen and women — private landowners and grass-roots conservation groups.

"I refer to it as a '3-legged stool,'" said Terry Hulm, vice president of the local chapter of Pheasants Forever, one of the conservation groups that work to preserve animal populations and habitat in South Dakota.

"Certainly the state is huge with their funds from our licenses and they're directed by the citizens to do thing to help us enjoy outdoor recreation in the state," Hulm said. "But landowners know how to manage their land, and take care of their wildlife, and then we're kind of like the glue that brings it all together."

For example, Hulm said, Pheasants Forever works with landowners and provides funds to plant trees on their land, create food plots for pheasants, and create nesting cover for the birds.

He said the group has also given money to the state to share the cost of equipment needed to expand pheasant habitat. "We bring in new ideas and additional funding," he said. "It's a neat conglomeration of people who all have the same goals in mind."

Pheasants Forever is one of many groups that raise money on their own, work to preserve wild game and fish populations, expand youth hunting opportunities, and generally support the idea that outdoor recreation is a positive pastime and a part of American heritage that must to protected in order to survive.

Other local, regional and national groups that play a similar role include Walleyes Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Bucks Unlimited, the Black Hills Fly Fishers, Black Hills Anglers, the National Wild Turkey Foundation, the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, the Bighorn Sheep Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation and the Dakota Chapter of the Safari Club.

In an email statement to the Journal, game and fish spokeswoman Emily Kiel referred to the conservation groups as "a significant partner in the state's wildlife and fisheries management activities."

"These partnerships can provide resources, funds, manpower, equipment and other important support tools that help ensure the state's wildlife are sustained at high levels," Kiel wrote.

She provided some specific examples, including how the Black Hills Fly Fishers partnered with the state to improve stream habitat on Rapid Creek in the Black Hills, and how the state gives the elk and bighorn sheep foundations two hunting tags to raffle off in order to provide a quality hunt for the highest bidder but also create new revenue for the state to preservation habitat for elk and sheep.

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The evidence of the work done by Walleyes Unlimited can be seen at several waterways around western South Dakota, where placards indicate the group has built and installed numerous docks for fishing. Among other efforts to engage youngsters in angling, the group has also teamed up with Cabela's to provide equipment and instruction for children during a youth fishing derby at Roosevelt Pond in Rapid City.

Another wildly successful partnership has provided a positive hunting experience for many area children and adults who otherwise would not be exposed to the joys of outdoor sports. Efforts like the Family Heritage Program and the South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures have given scores of people the opportunity to experience the outdoors with a mentor who can teach them not only how to hunt, but also how to be an ethical, responsible outdoorsperson. Youngsters from local girls' and boys' clubs, among other sources, are given opportunities their families perhaps cannot otherwise afford or for which they do not possess the equipment to get out into the wild.

Jim Scull, owner of Scull Construction in Rapid City, is a major backer of those programs, and is credited by Hulm and others with helping hundreds of people experience the outdoors for the first time, a key component in growing outdoor recreation.

Scull is also a member and supporter of several conservation groups, which he said don't always get the credit they deserve for preserving hunting traditions and providing access to the outdoors.

"These groups are really the boots on the ground, the ones who make things happen," Scull said, noting that participation in hunting and the shooting sports is declining in the U.S.

"It's truly an American tradition," he said of outdoor recreation. "We have game in America today because of the people who want to hunt. It sounds almost contradictory, but it's not."

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