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The Associated Press

The National Wildlife Federation endorsed the final draft of a grasslands management plan that includes Wyoming.

More than 26,000 people commented on the draft for the Northern Great Plains that includes land in Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.

U.S. Forest Service officials considered five alternatives and tried to find the best combination of uses for the land. Mining, ranching, recreation activities and ecosystem conservation are all included in the preferred alternative.

“With most decisions, you’re not going to please everybody,” said Bob Sprentall, the Forest Service’s planning team leader.

Once the final draft is published Friday, there will be a six-month comment period before the rules are adopted. It has been more than 13 years since the grasslands management plans have been updated.

“I think the plan in general is a strong step forward for people and animals,” the National Wildlife Federation’s grasslands program manager Catherine Johnson said.

The grasslands are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the country, Johnson said. This plan marks the first time the Forest Service placed the same importance on grasslands as it does on forests, she said.

This draft reflects the more than 110,000 initial comments received on the plan from July 1999 to February 2000.

Sprentall said this draft changes some restrictions on oil and gas exploration in grasslands. In some areas, exploration may now be allowed during certain times of the year, instead of completely banning drilling.

In South Dakota, an additional area will be identified as potential wilderness area, Sprentall said.

In North Dakota, no areas will be recommended for wilderness areas.

Wyoming also apparently would have no recommended wilderness areas, although further details were unavailable Monday, said Jonathan Proctor of the Predator Conservation Alliance, based in Bozeman, Mont.

The plan also earmarks some land as protected habitat for black-tailed prairie dogs. It promotes a greater diversity of grass and shrub heights and densities to provide habitat for deer, antelope, grouse and other animals.

Proctor said he applauds the inclusion of a shooting ban on prairie dogs in Wyoming. Prairie dogs, a key food source of the endangered black-footed ferret, have been killed as a result of the sylvatic plague in parts of Thunder Basin.

“Some of the changes are better but it still falls short of what we need and still caters to livestock and energy interests,” Proctor said.

Thunder Basin grassland managers could not be reached for comment Monday.

Groups that depend on the federal land for part of their livelihood, such as the Nebraska Cattlemen, will wait to see the details of the plan before deciding whether to endorse it.

Cattlemen spokesman Greg Ruehle said any substantial change to the number of cattle allowed with a grazing permit would hurt ranchers.

“We’re all about the best use of grazing land,” Ruehle said of all the different interests.

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