MEDORA, ND—The Congressionally-chartered Theodore Roosevelt Association (TRA) has launched a national campaign to protect the Elkhorn Ranch site in North Dakota’s Bad Lands against threats from developers looking to capitalize on North Dakota’s massive oil boom in the Bakken Oil Field.
The Elkhorn Ranch was home to former President Theodore Roosevelt in the 1880’s, and is generally recognized as the place where Roosevelt developed his conservation ethic. One area of the ranch—the actual cabin site—is a part of the National Park system, and another area, where Roosevelt grazed his cattle, is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The two areas straddle the Little Missouri River in western North Dakota’s Bad Lands.
The Forest Service is closing a comment period next week on its Environmental Assessment of a proposal to mine gravel on the grazing lands, in a spot directly across the river from the cabin site, and within the viewshed of the porch on which Roosevelt often sat and viewed his ranch on summer evenings during his years in North Dakota.
The Federal Highway Administration is holding two public hearings next week, in Medora and Bismarck, ND, on a proposal by Billings County (ND) to build a new bridge or low-water crossing over the Little Missouri for use by the oil industry. The proposed routes would run through the Forest Service property, known as the Elkhorn Ranchlands, and adjacent to the Park Service Property. Earlier estimates by the Billings County Commission said the road and bridge could accommodate more than a thousand trucks a week through and past the properties.
This week, Tweed Roosevelt, great grandson of the former president and President of the TRA, sent an e-mail to the 1,500 member Theodore Roosevelt Association that said “I know that many of you have visited the Elkhorn Ranch, where Theodore Roosevelt spent the bulk of his time when he ranched in Dakota Territory, and love it as I do. It is a very special place and deserves to be protected from those who would destroy its pristine tranquility for short term gain.”
Included in the e-mail was an appeal by Lowell Baier, President of the Boone and Crockett Club, a national sportsman’s organization founded by Theodore Roosevelt, asking TRA members to get involved in the protection of the ranch.
”The historic significance of this site is that this is where TR conceived the very idea of conservation of our country’s lands, wildlife, natural resources and scenic wonders,” Baier wrote. “The ‘Birthplace of Conservation’ or ‘Cradle of Conservation’ are the phrases that best describe where America’s conservation movement was inspired, conceived and born. It is a tangible arcadian icon of America’s cultural identify, which has also been called ‘The Walden Pond of the American West.’”
“We all thought back in 2007, after the U.S. Forest Service acquired the property, that its burden could be put down, and it would be protected in perpetuity and enjoyed by all of our fellow Americans,” Baier wrote. “Unfortunately the jaws of commercialism continue to rage in getting and spending, notwithstanding the desecration it would cause to the Elkhorn site so sacred to our country’s heritage of conservation and land stewardship.”
“Unfortunately, with the development of the Bakken oil field all around the Elkhorn site, the local Billings County Commissioners have resurfaced the idea of building the bridge and oil access road,” Baier continued in his message. “And an even bigger threat to the view shed is an attempt to develop a gravel pit in the middle of the viewshed right at the top of the semi-circular ridge that establishes the perimeter of the view shed clearly visible from the TR National Park site where TR’s ranch buildings were located.”
Owners of minerals under the Elkhorn Ranchlands property have applied for a permit to mine gravel to sell to the oil industry for building roads to new oil development sites. The Forest Service recently completed an Environmental Assessment on the proposal and has it open for public comment through next week.
As part of the effort to protect the Ranch site, Baier and Roosevelt are seeking National Monument status for the site.
“To prevent the erosion of the Elkhorn Ranch’s sacred solitude both visually and audibly, and preserve the cradle of conservation’s iconic symbolism, Tweed Roosevelt, President of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, personally asked President Obama in early March during a meeting in the Oval Office to utilize the American Antiquities Act of 1906 and designate 4,400 acres of the Elkhorn as a national monument by Executive Order that would curtail future development and protect the site in perpetuity,” Baier told TRA members in his message.
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