The Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) announced today that it had hired a habitat partnership coordinator and a regional director to focus on the Dakota Grasslands region. Casey Nordine was hired in October to serve as the regional director who will coordinate chapter activities and fundraisers in South Dakota and Nebraska. In early November, Brennen Borah joined the MDF staff to serve as a habitat partnership coordinator working with state and federal agencies and private landowners to restore habitat for mule deer, sage grouse, pronghorn, and other wildlife in the Dakota Grasslands project area. Together with North Dakota regional director Sara Wagner, Wyoming regional director Shawn Blajszczak, and Montana regional director Chris Fortune, the Dakotas staff will direct focused effort to implement projects on the eastern range of mule deer, which is dominated by private land with intermixed federal and state lands. The efforts kicked off today with a volunteer project to remove old fencing or convert it to wildlife friendly designs on the U.S. Forest Service’s McKenzie Ranger District in western North Dakota.
The project completed yesterday on the Little Missouri National Grassland was an effort to remove fencing that was a barrier to wildlife movement and replace it with wildlife-friendly fencing. This was a “boots on the ground” project in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) by volunteers from MDF and the North Dakota Petroleum Council. Material expenses were shared by MDF and USFS, and equipment and labor were provided by MDF employees and industry partners with MAP Mechanical, ONEOK, Rossco Crane, TC Energy, and Terracon; lunch for the volunteers was provided by Weatherford. The project serves as an example of the opportunities that MDF and its partners will pursue through the Dakota Grasslands habitat conservation efforts.
“The Mule Deer Foundation has been growing our role in North Dakota over the past five years with volunteer and industry projects on private lands that benefit mule deer and many other wildlife species,” said MDF Chief Conservation Officer Steve Belinda. “The addition of Brennen and Casey to our team in the Dakota Grasslands region will create significant new opportunity for us to make a difference on the prairies where mule deer live.”
The Dakota Grasslands is a key focal area for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) 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 received a grant from NFWF in summer 2022 to hire a Dakota Grasslands habitat partnership coordinator to focus on western North Dakota, eastern Montana, northwestern South Dakota, and northeastern Wyoming. In this position, Borah will provide critical new capacity to network with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), USFS, 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 to implement landscape-scale habitat conservation in the region.
Brennen is a South Dakota native with a strong passion for wildlife and habitat management. He graduated from South Dakota State University with a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and spent 10 years with South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks managing habitat on both public and private lands. He will be based in Spearfish, SD at the north end of the Black Hills. Borah will work with federal, state, and private landowners on cross-boundary projects that improve the critical mixed-grass prairie ecosystem found in the project area, in particular removing conifers that are encroaching into grasslands, fencing modifications, riparian restoration, grazing plans, and more.
“I am excited to be stationed in my home state and work within the Dakota Grasslands region to support habitat restoration efforts,” Borah said. “MDF now has project funding, dedicated staff, and a growing network of volunteers that will allow us to significantly increase the amount of work that we will be able to do over the next few years.”
Casey Nordine is the new regional director focused on South Dakota and western Nebraska, an area where MDF has not had a dedicated field staff person. He will focus on coordinating fundraising events, building chapters, and engaging volunteers that can support the conservation efforts occurring in his states. Casey was raised in the Black Hills of South Dakota and has been hunting and fishing for 20+ years with a love of chasing mule deer across the rolling hills of the Great Plains. He spent 8 years running a startup microbrewery, wearing many hats including the facilitation of large festivals and fundraisers. He currently serves on the board of the wild-food-focused organization Harvesting Nature where he helps lead field-to fork hunt camps that focus on teaching the skills needed to hunt, butcher, process, and cook your own wild meat.
“Having a full team of staff focused on the Dakota Grasslands opens up tremendous opportunity for MDF’s conservation and chapter development,” commented Marshall Johnson, Director of Field Operations for the organization. “We all met with our partner agencies in Deadwood recently and today completed this fencing project on the Little Missouri National Grassland. I know all of our partners are excited to get started on even more projects we can implement together.”
The Mule Deer Foundation is the only conservation group in North America dedicated to restoring, improving, and protecting mule deer and black-tailed deer and their habitat, with a focus on science and program efficiency. MDF is a strong voice for hunters in access, wildlife management and conservation policy issues. MDF acknowledges regulated hunting as a viable management component and is committed to recruitment and retention of youth into the shooting sports and conservation. Get involved in your state or become a member at www.muledeer.org or call 801-973-3940
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