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Conservation Group Hails Introduction of Grassland Wilderness Bill
- South Dakota Wild Grassland Coalition
The South Dakota Wild Grassland Coalition today praised Senator Tim Johnson for introducing legislation to protect nearly 50,000 acres on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland as wilderness. The group specifically cited Senator Johnson’s effort to reach out to varied stakeholders when crafting his bill.
Volunteer Terry Mayes said, "As a long-time landowner and outdoorsman in this state, I appreciate Senator Johnson's approach. He's done the important work of making sure that stakeholders and others directly affected by this bill understand the accurate facts about wilderness and has listened to their thoughts before moving forward. He's looking at the long-term, big picture for our wonderful prairie heritage."
The Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act of 2010 will designate nearly 50,000 acres of wilderness in the Indian Creek, Red Shirt and Chalk Hills areas. Wilderness designation will ensure that these areas remain the great haven they are for hunting, hiking, horseback riding, camping, rock collecting and birding. The legislation will also allow for the continuation of grazing where it exists now.
“Over 70 percent of West River voters support more wilderness designation for South Dakota, including sportsmen, horseback riders, ORV riders and rock collectors,” said Chris Hesla, executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, noting an independent Moore Information survey conducted in January. “This broad local support shows that people from all walks of life appreciate having some of our prairie stay just as it is.”
“We are proud this will be first national grassland wilderness in the country,” said Cheryl Warren, coordinator of the South Dakota Wild Grassland Coalition. “We applaud Senator Johnson for his vision and work to protect these unique landscapes for future generations to experience, not just to hear of as a memory.”
Safeguarding the cultural heritage of the land is a concern of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, whose tribal council passed a unanimous resolution last year supporting the grasslands proposal. “The Buffalo Gap National Grassland is culturally and historically important to our people. Our prairie habitat is dwindling, and protecting some of this land is essential to the cultural continuity of the tribal people of the Great Plains,” said Birgil Kills Straight, executive director of the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority.
“Ranchers like us appreciate that this bill will allow established grazing traditions to continue,” said Paul Jensen, operator of Jensen Ranch in Wasta. “Folks should know that existing grazing is in no way curtailed by wilderness designation.”
Sportsmen also spoke in strong support of the wilderness legislation. “Hunters and anglers know that some of the finest outdoor experiences occur in the wild, away from roads and the roar of engines,” said Jerry Schlekeway, president of the South Dakota Division of the Izaak Walton League. “Senator Johnson’s bill will guarantee that future sportsmen will have the same opportunities we have had, to enjoy traditional fair-chase hunting in undisturbed backcountry.
“This bill is the culmination of years of working to educate the public and stakeholders about wilderness, provide accurate information and overcome common myths and misinformation,” said Mayes. “Senator Johnson is doing the right thing for South Dakota by protecting these lands. He has introduced a bill that will truly be a legacy for the state of South Dakota.”
“We certainly hope the entire South Dakota delegation helps move this historic bill through Congress and to the president’s desk this year,” added Warren.