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Supporters Not Giving Up on Wilderness Designation for SD Grasslands

July 17, 2007


Time's running out for Congress to pass a plan to preserve a small piece of the state's prairie grasslands in Southwestern South Dakota during this session. But a coalition of South Dakota sportsmen, ranchers, conservationists, Native American tribes and businesses say they're not giving up the effort. South Dakota Grasslands Wilderness Coalition member Chris Hesla is the executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation. He says designating the land as wilderness would give the four designated areas located within the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands permanent protection.

"It stops vehicular travel on it and that's the biggest protection for it. It's about 70,000 acres, the four areas total, which is less than one percent of national grasslands in South Dakota. So, it's an ongoing educational journey at this point. Hopefully, we'll see some legislation within the next year or so and we'll go from there,"

Hesla adds that off-road vehicle recreation is one of the fastest growing sports in the nation and that's why they're working to preserve some of the state's wild lands.

"They're just moving over into these areas that, at this time, are still mostly pristine. They may have one road into them, no overhead power lines. It's just some pristine areas in South Dakota that we'd like to protect for future generations."

The four areas included in the coalition's proposal are Indian Creek, Cheyenne River, First Black Canyon and Red Shirt. Red Shirt is Hesla favorite.

"If you sit up on Red Shirt table and look down into the Badlands, you won't believe the most beautiful sight you'll ever see in South Dakota. It's got to be one of the top three that I can name and I've lived here my whole life."

Hesla explains that the coalition is gathering support for the wilderness designation for the long run and the coalition has been working with the state's congressional delegation, local policy makers, Native American tribes and ranchers to create awareness of the importance of preserving the state's wild lands.

David Law/Eric Mack, Public News Service - SD