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Wilderness Protections Would Benefit South Dakota Economy

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 By David Law/Craig Eicher, Contact
November 12, 2007

Rapid City, SD – Preserving South Dakota's wild heritage can stimulate local economic activity, rather than squashing it. So says Dr. Thomas Power, a national author and University of Montana economics professor, who meets with community leaders in South Dakota this week to discuss his report on the economic impact of designating the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands as federal wilderness area. According to Power, protecting the area will actually benefit South Dakota's economy.

"These natural landscapes provide a broad flow of valuable natural environmental services, scenic beauty, interaction with wildlife, fisheries, clean waters. If we focus only on the commercial side, making use of these wilderness areas, we may be ignoring the vast bulk of the natural values that they can provide to us."

Power argues people who assume that the economic benefits of wild lands can be realized only through development activities -- such as timber harvesting, commercial grazing, mining and drilling, and building resorts -- are incorrect. He says his research shows keeping the land as it is offers benefits that are just as valuable, and longer-lasting.

"It lays the basis for a whole new economy that's aimed at people simply enjoying living adjacent to these natural areas, against which they live their rather civilized lives. There are dozens of studies out there and all of them come to the same conclusion: protected natural landscapes contribute to stimulating local economic vitality."

The South Dakota Grasslands Wilderness Coalition, comprised of sportsmen, ranchers, conservationists, Native American tribes and local business owners, has been working to set aside portions of South Dakota's prairie grasslands in their wild state. Its proposal would designate just over 70,000 acres within the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands of southwestern South Dakota as wilderness. The proposal is under consideration by Congress.

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