PIERRE, S.D. | One of the Upper Midwest's conservation icons is still giving back to young hunters in his home state even after his death in 2008.
Outdoorsman Tony Dean of South Dakota co-produced award-winning radio and television programs. When he died about six years ago, some of his family, friends and colleagues put together a pair of programs aimed at ensuring Dean's legacy would not soon be forgotten. One was known as the Tony Dean's Acres, which buys land in South Dakota for wildlife management and public hunting.
The second became known as the Tony and Dar Dean Outdoor Education Fund, which gives small grants to people and organizations to teach kids about conservation and land management. Grant applicants must be from South Dakota, but nonresidents can serve as the providers of contract services.
"We all decided one of the things we could do was to buy some property," said John Cooper, a friend of Dean's who now is chairman of South Dakota's state Game, Fish and Parks Commission. "Another part of that was an education fund."
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Cooper said that education fund was the partial realization of an idea he and Dean had talked about a few years before his death. They were scheduled to speak at a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conference and shared a room, and started talking about the need to highlight the importance of conservation education. The idea, Cooper said, was to figure out a way to get "conservation on the ground."
"We thought it would be good to start a foundation to get grant organizations to recognize that conservation education was needed," Cooper said.
For a number of reasons the foundation never quite materialized, he said. When Dean died, an opportunity arose to raise money to buy land and support hunting and fishing education programs, Cooper said. The effort was organized through the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation.
Since the fund began awarding grants it has helped fund everything from youth fishing days to a pheasant biology class, said South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation Executive Director Wayne Winter. He said the fund is important because it provides kids with opportunities to learn about hunting and fishing despite the distractions of modern life.
"That isn't just shooting things. It's how do we educate kids on conservation so when they grow up they can make good decisions about the land?" Winter said. "Getting people in tune with those values is important."
Winter said there is about $20,000 left in the education fund, which awards $4,000 worth of grants in increments between $500 and $1,500 each year. The Wildlife Foundation hasn't been able to actively raise money for the fund lately, Winter said, because the foundation has been working on several multimillion dollar projects.
"We would gladly accept money to keep that fund going," Winter added.
In 2015 the education fund will again be awarding $4,000 to youth conservation education programs.