When the National Trust embarked on its efforts to protect Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch more than two years ago by naming it one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places and a National Treasure, we thought we would be participating in a run-of-the-mill National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process to help identify an appropriate location for the proposed Little Missouri River Crossing (a proposal that could include a bridge or low-water river crossing) outside of the viewshed of the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As we looked more closely into the issue we quickly learned that the crossing was an indication of a much more insidious threat of minerals development that threatened to irreparably mar the serene, nationally significant landscape.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch is located in the fantastically rugged and magnificent North Dakota Badlands. It is a striking landscape that spoke to Roosevelt in the 1880s when he first visited on a hunt. He would return to build his Elkhorn Ranch and use the place to seek solace and repair following the deaths of his mother and first wife Alice. While the ranch buildings are no longer extant, the immediate surrounding landscape remains much the same as it was during Roosevelt’s time. The core of it is the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, 218 acres surrounded by National Grasslands (managed by the U.S. Forest Service), state lands, and private lands. This larger area of less than 5,000 acres has been designated Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch National Historic District and is the landscape the National Trust is committed to protecting.
Widely respected as one of the greatest conservation presidents in our nation’s history, Roosevelt once said, “I never would have been President if it had not been for my experience in North Dakota.” Throughout his eight years in office as the 26th president, he protected roughly 230 million acres of public lands. It was Roosevelt who signed the Antiquities Act of 1906 into law, establishing an administrative power to protect public lands of great cultural and environmental significance as National Monuments. How ironic, then, that more than a century later, the very place that rooted Roosevelt in his conservation ideals is now threatened by one of the largest oil and gas booms in our country’s history.
Oil and Gas Extraction in the Badlands
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