S. 3310 the Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act of 2010. The bill, which got its first Senate committee hearing last week, would designate about 48,000 acres of West River grassland as national wilderness. That's about 75 square miles, a total area a little larger than Sioux Falls, declared off limits to development and mechanical travel (including my mountain bike) and kept about as natural as it can be.Senator Tim Johnson has a good idea. In May, he introduced
The South Dakota Wild Grasslands Coalition released a survey last March finding about 60% support for this specific wilderness proposal among voters in the neighborhood of the affected lands. The survey even found majority support among snowmobilers and off-roaders.
Ranchers won't lose any grazing land if the wilderness designation passes. S. 3310 specifically excepts established grazing from the bill. In other words, if your cows eat grass near Red Shirt now, they'll be able to eat grass there after the bill becomes law.
Hunters and fishers would still get to enjoy the area right alongside backpackers, birdwatchers, and rock collectors. S. 3310 specifies that the state retains jurisdiction over fish and wildlife management, including hunting, fishing, and trapping.
Even Ellsworth Air Force Base gets to carve a niche in this bill. S. 3310 specifies that the military gets to keep its current flight training routes and can even declare new flight paths over the wilderness. (And you know, even when I'm backpacking, I think getting a good look at big jet planes is kind of cool... as long as that ordnance stays bolted on tight!)
Now Senator John Thune ought to be backing Senator Johnson on this proposal. Thune appreciates the value of protecting habitat and game populations for hunting and tourism.
But Thune is opposing S. 3310. He cites opposition from Governor Rounds, the Legislature, county commissioners, and area ranchers like Ken Knuppe and Scott Edoff, who worry their grazing permits will change.
The list of ranchers opposing the wilderness designation does not include Dan O'Brien, who holds the largest grazing permit in the northern portion of the targeted territory. He raises buffalo and is looking into eco-/agritourism. In his Senate testimony last week, he invoked the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt to declare the silence and solitude of the Indian Creek area a vital national resource deserving "maximum federal protection." He says wilderness designation would protect his own ranching and business interests as well as the rights of all Americans to enjoy the grasslands, which he says are "the least protected landscape in the world."
Senator Thune appears to be reaching for arguments, resorting to saying that the language in the bill doesn't say exactly what it says. He's rounded up the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association to echo his alarmism. The SD Wild Grassland Organization pretty effectively disposes with every one of Senator Thune's and the SDCA's stated concerns here.
The Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act would create a unique national wilderness, protecting a fragile prairie ecosystem that enjoys this sort of protection nowhere else. Right between South Dakota's two existing wilderness areas, the Black Elk Wilderness in the Hills and the Badlands Wilderness, the Indian Creek, Red Shirt, and Chalk Hills wildernesses would boost South Dakota's profile, tourism, and hunting without taking away from ranching. Passing this bill would honor the memory and wisdom of famed South Dakota outdoorsman Tony Dean, who appreciated the value of wilderness.
Senator Johnson recognizes the clear and immediate good S. 3310 would do. Senator Thune is grasping for hypothetical "potential" harms refuted by the spirit and the letter of this legislation, not to mention plain facts.
Come on, John: you can work with Tim on Ellsworth; you can work with Tim on wilderness. Drop the obstructionism, and support this good bill.
Update 19:37 CDT: I learn via Sibby that President Bush proposed creating a 71,381-acre Cheyenne River Valley Grassland. Sibby also leaves me to puzzle over how protecting wilderness ecosystems on federal land is part of the "socialist anti-property-rights agenda in South Dakota." Hmmm....
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