(Pierre – September 1, 2010) The Obama administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative came to South Dakota today in an effort to develop a conservation agenda for the 21st century. Conservation leaders from across South Dakota attended the listening session to contribute their ideas to help shape the initiative aimed at getting kids outside and safeguarding our natural heritage.
Earlier this year, Senator Johnson introduced the Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act, a bill to protect 48,000 acres of land in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland as wilderness. This historic legislation will establish the very first national grasslands wilderness in the nation, and is supported by business owners, teachers, hunters, veterans, conservationists, and outdoor recreationists. Under wilderness designation, established grazing has the highest level of protection of any public land management status, ensuring ranchers’ continued way of life.
“We need to cultivate a new generation of public land stewards if we want to ensure that our open spaces stay as they are. Wilderness areas are a vital part of our natural heritage, and if young people don’t have the opportunity to experience this gift, they won’t value it,” said Cheryl Warren with the South Dakota Wild Grassland Coalition. “The administration’s initiative has helped raise the profile of this important legacy, and I hope will mobilize more folks to join the effort to permanently protect this shared land.”
“Our as-yet undeveloped prairie grasslands are one of the very best places to enjoy the hunting experience,” said Chris Hesla, executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation. “America’s Great Outdoors initiative recognizes the importance of conserving some of these special wild places so our children and theirs can get out and take part in this tradition. That’s why the South Dakota Wildlife Federation supports legislation to protect a part of our grasslands as wilderness.”
Currently there are over 650 private landowners who’ve indicated interest in protecting nearly 300,000 acres of native grasslands and wetlands through the Fish and Wildlife Service’s grassland easement program, with the only limitation being additional funding needed to meet this demand.
“Ducks Unlimited is hopeful that the administration will recognize the exceptional opportunity that exists to perpetually protect native prairie in the Dakota’s for migratory birds, ranchers and future generations,” said Scott Stephens, director of conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited.
Climate change is the most serious threat our natural heritage has ever faced. Its effects are already being felt on even our most pristine landscapes. Land protection will provide resilient wildlife habitat as an adaptive measure to climate change.
“Protecting South Dakota’s prairie grasslands from the effects of climate change will ensure that our cultural and natural heritage gets passed down to future generations,” said Jim Margadant, regional conservation organizer for the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club.