OUR OPINION: Help save a portion of N.D.'s wild lands
No cars. No trucks. No stoplights. On the far horizon, maybe a tiny profile of a farmhouse or two. Otherwise, just hills, grass and a sky of prairie blazing-star blue, in every direction and as far as the eye could see: That was the view across m...
No cars. No trucks. No stoplights. On the far horizon, maybe a tiny profile of a farmhouse or two.
Otherwise, just hills, grass and a sky of prairie blazing-star blue, in every direction and as far as the eye could see: That was the view across much of western North Dakota, not so many years ago.
That's changing. The west is becoming an industrial landscape. Oil rigs pump atop many sections, trucks convoy and raise dust along rural roads, warehouses and fences sprout on fields that used to grow only sunflowers or wheat.
These developments bring people and generate wealth, both of which North Dakota needs. On balance, they're a very good thing for the state.
But let's preserve some portion of the few wild lands that are left.
The North Dakota Wilderness Coalition wants to protect about 68,000 acres of public land as wilderness, Herald staff writer Brad Dokken reported Tuesday.
"The areas being proposed for federal 'Wilderness' designation are located in Bullion Butte, Kendley Plateau, Long X Divide and Twin Buttes, all in the Badlands, and the Sheyenne Grasslands in southeastern North Dakota." Dokken wrote.
"Wilderness designation would protect the lands from development such as roads and mineral exploration."
North Dakotans should give this modest proposal their support.
The word "modest" here is key. The coalition of conservation groups has done its work well: The Prairie Legacy Wilderness proposal is no land grab that would set aside vast portions of the state.
Instead, it's simply meant to protect touchstones such as Bullion Butte, "the pivotal landmark in the southern Little Missouri National Grassland," as the coalition describes it.
Currently, North Dakota protects one-tenth of 1 percent of its land area as wilderness, much of that within the confines of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
And while the Prairie Legacy Wilderness proposal would double the protected acreage, that still would amount to only two-tenths of 1 percent of the state's land area.
Minnesota, in contrast, protects eight times that amount, or 1.6 percent of that state. Montana protects 3.7 percent, Idaho calls 7.6 percent of its land area wilderness and Washington has seen the designation bestowed on more than 10 percent of that state.
Every state should protect its most impressive natural wonders, and North Dakota is no exception. But the Prairie Legacy Wilderness proposal is nationally -- not just regionally significant. That's because North Dakota has a special kind of wilderness, one not found anywhere else.
America's wilderness preservation system does not include any national grassland areas. If the Prairie Legacy Wilderness proposal clears Congress, it would give North Dakota the honor of claiming the first national grassland wilderness in the U.S. -- thus "honoring our past, recognizing the value for the present day and ensuring high-quality natural experience into the future," as the Wilderness Coalition writes.
Americans will travel to our nation's special places. Residents of other states will come to the Prairie Legacy Wilderness areas, too. As important, North Dakotans will come, and they'll enjoy the warmth of knowing they've saved key features of the landscape for future generations to enjoy.
Prosperity and development are coming to much of rural western North Dakota. Let's enjoy that growth, while saving some measure of the region's historic wildness, too.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald