In a surprise move in late February, North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer endorsed portions of a Sierra Club plan to establish the state's first ever federal wilderness areas. Although all of North Dakota's major newspapers and many citizen's groups have backed the wilderness plan, Schafer, a Republican, is the state's first politician to sign on. Last year, the Sierra Club proposed creating 11 wilderness areas covering 191,000 acres, mostly in the rugged badlands in the western half of the state. Ranchers and the oil and gas industry vowed to kill the proposal, and warned the state's congressional delegation not to get involved (HCN, 8/23/93). Schafer says that kind of polarization is unnecessary. His proposal - based on a technical study of the areas' mineral and surface rights, land use and economics - supports wilderness for three large chunks of the badlands. In addition, Schafer urged the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to consider using land and mineral exchanges in order to eliminate conflicts between wilderness advocates and the oil and gas industry. "This is a great step forward," says the Sierra Club's Kirk Koepsel. "We are moving from the debate over whether wilderness is even appropriate to the debate over how much wilderness is appropriate."