Dispatch from the Buffalo Gap National Grassland

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Hiking the proposed Red Shirt Wilderness

By: Lindsay Schlageter

The proposed Red Shirt Wilderness lies within Buffalo Gap National Grassland—the second-largest National Grassland in the country, encompassing nearly 600,000 acres in southwestern South Dakota. The grassland is characterized by a variety of prairie grasses and vast openness, sprinkled with sheer cliffs, stark buttes, and small, hidden canyons. The grasslands provide habitat for a wide array of wildlife, including pronghorn, prairie dogs, coyotes, jackrabbits, deer, bison, bighorn sheep, and many species of birds.

Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the area has a long tradition of cattle grazing and hunting and is popular with hikers, campers, and rock collectors.

The South Dakota Wild Grassland Coalition is working on a proposal to protect nearly 50,000 acres of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland as wilderness. Indian Creek, Red Shirt, and Chalk Hills represent the wildest, most rugged prairie left in South Dakota and include the largest remaining roadless area in the Great Plains. Wilderness designation would ensure that these areas stay as they are, escaping the effects of oil and gas development and off-road-vehicle use, while allowing grazing and hunting to continue. If protected, this would become the nation's first National Grassland wilderness.

In early October, several Pew staff and coalition members hiked through the Red Shirt area:

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