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Go Fourth” program encourages South Dakota youth to get outdoors

Fifteen thousand fourth graders in South Dakota will get a special taste of summer freedom through the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks’ (GFP) “Go Fourth” program.

The “Go Fourth” program, presented in partnership with the South Dakota Department of Health, distributes free entrance licenses for one day in any South Dakota state park or recreation area to every fourth grade student in South Dakota. The student must be present for the pass to be valid.

The passes allow entrance to any South Dakota state park or recreation area to students and their families and include a free equipment rental – kayak, canoe, paddleboat, paddleboard or bicycle. Students who are unable to visit a park can use their pass for a free one-year subscription to GFP’s Conservation Digestmagazine.

“The program aims to give every fourth grade student exposure to local natural resources and a chance to start a lifetime of healthy habits,” said GFP secretary, Kelly Hepler. “The program will showcase activities and opportunities available at state parks and recreation areas, as well as events and educational programs taking place.”

The passes were distributed to all public and private schools the first week in May. Families can turn in the day-pass for a discount off of an annual pass. The passes are valid between the distribution date and Dec. 31, 2018.

A calendar of events happening in South Dakota state parks can be found online at

For more information about the “Go Fourth” program, call 605.773.3391 or email

Reminder that muskellunge are catch and release in South Dakota

As of April 30, the harvest restrictions for muskellunge and tiger muskies has changed from a statewide 40 inch minimum length limit and a daily limit of one fish to catch and release only statewide.

Currently, South Dakota has five lakes that are managed for this fish species. They are Lynn and Middle Lynn in Day County, West Highway 81 in Kingsbury County, Sinai in Brookings County and North Island Lake in McCook and Minnehaha Counties.

Muskies may also be found in other waters and the catch and release regulation applies to all South Dakota waters.

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Muskie populations in these lakes are supported by stocking 9-12 inch fish every other year. Muskies over 50 inches have been documented in lakes with a longer history of muskie management, such as Lynn Lake.

Drought reduces prairie grouse numbers on the Fort Pierre National Grassland

A total of 354 male greater prairie-chickens and 65 male sharp-tailed grouse were counted this spring on a portion of the Fort Pierre National Grassland in central South Dakota. USDA Forest Service staff have conducted standardized surveys there since 1988. This year’s tallies are lower than 2017’s counts of 421 greater prairie-chickens and 80 sharp-tailed grouse.

Dan Svingen, District Ranger for the Fort Pierre Ranger District, noted that, “Based on historic patterns of gamebird population response to weather, we anticipated finding fewer birds this spring due to the severe drought of 2017. The decline observed this spring is also consistent with the wing data collected last autumn that indicated greatly reduced reproductive success in summer 2017, particularly for greater prairie-chickens.” Svingen also added: “Working with our livestock permittees, we reduced grazing levels on the Fort Pierre National Grassland in both 2017 and 2018 in response to the drought; those actions will make it easier for gamebirds to recover if favorable weather occurs.”

Ruben Mares, Wildlife Biologist added: “The early spring snowstorms this year brought some much needed moisture to the Grassland, but also delayed green-up. Now that the grass is growing, we will need good precipitation to encourage the vegetative and insect production needed for successful nesting and brood-rearing if we are to see prairie-chicken and grouse numbers rebound.”

For more information, call the Fort Pierre Ranger District at 605-224-5517.

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