Elk NetworkSouth Dakota Wildlife, Habitat, CWD Research & Hunting Heritage Projects Receive $1.45 Million

News Releases | September 14, 2023

MISSOULA, Mont. — Help is on the way to enhance more wildlife habitat, create more public access for elk hunters, better advance chronic wasting disease research and support more South Dakota hunting and outdoor programs.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners allocated $1,458,840 in grant funding to further those endeavors. RMEF committed $295,123 that helped leverage $1,163,717 in partner dollars.

The grant funding supports 25 projects across 16 counties and two others with statewide impact.

“A significant portion of these grants focus on invasive weed control, removing encroaching conifers on aspen stands, creating new wildlife water sources and better protecting riparian habitat. These treatments make a significant difference for elk, deer and other species,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer.

Highlighting a few examples, RMEF granted funding in addition to the previously announced $100,000 for chronic wasting disease research in the Black Hills and $15,000 to open public access for elk hunting on private land. In addition, RMEF allotted funding for 15 hunting heritage projects ranging from youth recreational shooting teams to helping expand The Outdoor Campus facility in Sioux Falls.

South Dakota is home to more than 4,500 RMEF members and 17 chapters.

“We salute and recognize our volunteers for their efforts to generate this funding that goes back on the ground in their home state,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO.

Since 1990, RMEF and its partners completed 430 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in South Dakota with a combined value of more than $53.9 million. These projects conserved or enhanced 128,659 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 11,711  acres.

Below is the full project list, shown by county.

Butte County

  • Provide funding for the purchase of a Daisy inflatable BB gun range to promote shooting and hunting and youth and family events in the Black Hills, some in partnership with RMEF chapters (also benefits Custer, Fall River, Lawrence, Meade and Pennington Counties.)

Charles Mix County

  • Provide funding for members of the Platte-Geddes High School Trap Team to participate in the South Dakota High School Clay Target League. Students learn firearm safety and shooting skills.
  • Provide funding for the Platte Gun Club, which hosts a six-week shooting league for youth ages 10 to 18 years, culminating in a statewide competition.

Codington County

  • Provide funding for Codington County 4-H Shooting Sports, a program for youth ages 8 to 18 to receive hands-on instruction in the safe handling and use of BB guns, air pistols and air rifles. Participants also take part in competitions.

Custer County

  • Remove encroaching conifers across 210 acres in the Hell Canyon Ranger District on the Black Hills National Forest (BHNF) to protect regenerating aspen stands to improve forage for elk and other wildlife.
  • Provide funding for the construction of two new water tanks on the BHNF’s Hell Canyon Ranger District. The tanks are the final ones to be installed as part of a 13-mile water pipeline system.
  • RMEF volunteers attending the annual South Dakota Rendezvous repair existing wildlife water guzzlers and remove small encroaching conifers on the BHNF’s Hell Canyon Ranger District.

Fall River County

  • Provide funding for the Elk Hunter Access Program which creates hunting opportunity for public hunters on private land in the Black Hills. RMEF donated grant funding for the program for the last decade (also benefits Bennett, Custer and Pennington Counties).
  • Provide funding for three Project Learning Tree events that offer kindergarten, 4th and 5th grade students the opportunity to learn about trees, habitat, wildlife, forest management and conservation (also benefits Butte and Lawrence Counties).

Lawrence County

  • Treat 150 acres of invasive weeds on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) South Dakota Field Office to prevent further spread.
  • Remove conifer trees encroaching on 19 acres to improve aspen and birch stands within Sawyer Memorial Park south of Deadwood, a portion of which falls under an RMEF voluntary conservation agreement.
  • Build buck-and-rail fencing around three springs south of Lead on land managed by the BLM South Dakota Field Office to protect riparian habitat by keeping livestock out, while allowing wildlife in. The project also replaces barbed wire around two existing wildlife water guzzlers on the Fort Mead Recreation Area (also benefits Meade County).
  • Provide funding in addition to previously announced funding for research assessing the environmental prevalence of CWD among elk in high-use areas in the Black Hills and its possible impact on reproduction, survival and population growth (also benefits Custer, Fall River and Pennington Counties).
  • Provide funding for Deadwood History, Inc., a nonprofit that presents a broad range of educational programs to youth and adults alike about the natural and cultural heritage of Deadwood and the Black Hills (also benefits Butte, Custer, Fall River, Meade and Pennington Counties).

Meade County

  • Provide funding for invasive weed treatment across 25 acres of private land and in the BNHF’s Northern Hills Ranger District as part of an “all lands” approach across federal, state, county, city and private lands.

Miner County

  • Provide funding for the Miner County 4-H Shooting Sports Program, which teaches youth about marksmanship, the safe and responsible use of firearms, the principles of hunting and archery, and much more (also benefits McCook County).

Minnehaha County

  • Provide funding for the Humboldt Sharpshooters, a youth shooting sports club that offers instruction about marksmanship and gun safety as they participate in BB gun, sporter rifle and air pistol competitions.

Pennington County

  • Treat 150 acres of habitat for invasive weeds on both private lands and in the BHNF’s Mystic Ranger District.
  • Provide funding for the start-up Rapid City Regulators Trap Team consisting of students grades 7 to 12 from Rapid City area schools (also benefits Meade County).
  • Provide funding to help implement a multi-phase effort for the Black Hills Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America to make repairs and upgrades to the shooting sports education facility at the Medicine Mountain Scout Ranch in Custer. Changes will allow for use beyond the summer season (also benefits Butte, Custer, Fall River, Lawrence and Meade Counties).
  • Build 1.5 miles of three-rail fencing in the BHNF’s Mystic Ranger District to protect and enhance riparian area along Castle Creek. Willow planting will follow in 2024 (see photo at top of post).

Sanborn County

  • Provide funding for the Sanborn County 4-H Shooting Sports Program, which helps youth learn safety and shooting techniques for BB gun, air rifle, air pistol, .22 rifle, shotgun and archery (also benefits Jerauld County).

Tripp County

  • Provide funding for the Winner Area High School Trap Team to participate in the USA High School Clay Target League National Championship in Michigan. Every team member made it to the individual shooting competition and the team placed 17th out of 240.

Yankton County

  • Provide funding for the Yankton Youth Trap Team, a squad of youth in grades 7 to 12. Participants learn about safety and marksmanship in a fun environment.


  • Provide funding to help South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (SDGFP) create an interactive, virtual reality, web-based program to offer education about elk, elk habitat, food preferences and other behavior.
  • Provide funding to help expand The Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls, a facility that offers hands-on experiences in hunting, fishing, outdoor skills and conservation science. Expansion includes indoor and outdoor archery and BB gun ranges, additional classrooms, space for processing and cooking wild game and fish, and more.*

(*Funding partners are contributing more than $7.4 million to the project, which is not included in the $1.16 million partner figure noted in the second paragraph.)

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

Founded more than 39 years ago and fueled by hunters, RMEF maintains more than 225,000 members and has conserved more than 8.6 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.