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The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation committed $114,000 in grant funding to projects in South Dakota last year.

The South Dakota elk population got some help in 2018 in the form of $114,000.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation committed that money to fund 25 projects in 15 counties, including three projects that focus on Fall River, Custer, Meade, Lawrence and Pennington counties.

"Elk in any state provide a benefit to a lot of different users, from wildlife viewing to hunting or the appreciation of having elk in your state; it's important to a community," director of habitat stewardship Karie Decker said. The projects have benefits to elk and other species like birds, livestock, that's something we try to emphasize."

One of those projects is underway in Lawrence County but has not been completed. It is a nine-mile long pipeline which includes 10 stock tanks, three water storage tanks and two wildlife water guzzlers across approximately 15,000 acres in the Black Hills National Forest.

The purpose of the pipeline, according to Decker, is to find a way to provide a water source for wildlife during the harshly dry summer months as well as improve grazing distribution for livestock.

"It means that all of the wildlife aren’t going to one pond and hitting the grazing around one pond, meaning there will be more forage available," she said.

Water scarcity is a prevalent issue in South Dakota, but Decker said before South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks comes to RMEF with a project, it consults with landowners about what impact a project would have on livestock and other wildlife.

"Water is at a premium across the lower portion of South Dakota," RMEF chief conservation officer Blake Henning said in a release. "This funding helps to establish a wide-ranging pipeline project to improve more than 15,400 acres of habitat."

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In Fall River County, the focus will be to increase hunter opportunity in the Southern Black Hills.

RMEF provided financial incentive to private landowners to open up an estimated 27,000 acres or privately-owned land as part of the South Dakota Hunting Access Program.

"Incentive is provided to landowners to enhance hunting opportunities," Decker said. "It helps GF&P meet their harvest goals and try to balance elk populations. We're helping with access in targeted areas does great things for maintaining management of species and opportunities."

The project is also designed to ease depredation issues and improves landowner tolerance for having elk on their property.

Another focus of the funding is research, like the project funded in Custer County that will also impact Lawrence and Pennington counties. 

RMEF provided funding for 50 collars that will be used to help monitor cow elk survival and mortality as well as calf recruitment in herds.

Decker said this method is used in multiple states and can help GF&P better understand mating seasons as well as harvest recommendations. 

"We are so grateful for our volunteers and all the hard work they put in," RMEF president and CEO Kyle Weaver said in a release. "Not only do they raise these funds that go back on the ground in South Dakota, but they took part in a number of different hands-on projects that improve water sources for elk and other wildlife. They truly are committed to our conservation mission."

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Contact Geoff Preston at geoffrey.preston@rapidcityjournal.com

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.