The Bugle Sounds Again!

Well, the battle to protect the Elkhorn Ranch from being excavated as a gravel pit (which I wrote about earlier this week) or invaded by an oil transport road (which I will write about next week) has taken on a new dimension. As you can see from the e-mails below, Tweed Roosevelt, the great grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt and a frequent visitor to the Bad Lands, and Lowell Baier, the President of the  Boone and Crockett Club who led the fundraising efforts to secure the 4,000 acre Eberts Ranch as public property a few years ago, and who visited the Ranch last fall, are urging the 1,500 members of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, a prestigious, Congressionally-chartered organization of Roosevelt family members and fans of the great conservation president, to get involved. That’s good news.

If you have not submitted comments to the Forest Service on the gravel pit issue yet, but have been intending to do so, please get on that right away. The new road/bridge over the Little Missouri on the north side of the Elkhorn cabin site, which has been proposed to run directly through the Elkhorn Ranchlands (how conveeeeeenient for the gravel pit operators who intend to sell their gravel to the oil companies) is the next big threat. There are public meetings in Bismarck next Tuesday, June 5, from 5-7 p.m. at the Kelly Inn, and next Thursday, June 7, at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora, also from 5-7 p.m (MDT). Please attend one of them to learn more about this and speak your piece about how excited you (and President Roosevelt) would be to see an oil truck freeway run through his ranch.

Here are the e-mails from Tweed and Lowell. Good for you guys!

Subject: Elkhorn Ranch Update – The Bugle Sounds Again!
Date: Fri, 1 Jun 2012 08:41:12 -0400

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 deserved to be protected from those who would destroy its pristine tranquility for short term gain.  The appeal below, explaining the situation and asking for your (non-financial) support, was written by our TRA Executive Committee member, Lowell Baier, who has been heading up the TRA’s efforts to preserve the Elkhorn.  It gives you a positive way to help save this extraordinary icon of the whole environmental movement.  Lowell will continue directing our efforts to save this very special place.  Please read the material below and consider supporting this effort.  If you wish to contact Lowell his email address is:

Tweed Roosevelt
President, Theodore Roosevelt Association

Elkhorn Ranch Update – The Bugle Sounds Again!

Back in 2005-7, at the request of Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, the Boone and Crockett Club lead the national campaign to raise $6 million to purchase the last privately held piece of Theodore Roosevelt’s historic Elkhorn Ranch, some 23,550 acres located in the Badlands of Western North Dakota.  Funding came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and over 100 companies and individual donors.  The land acquired lies immediately adjacent the 218 acre ranch site that is the central unit part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  For a variety of local political reasons, title to the land was taken by the U.S. Forest Service.  Some 4,400 acres of this land is the view shed that the ranch building site faces, and which Theodore Roosevelt looked at daily during the three and a half years he lived at the Elkhorn (1884-1887).

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.  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 referenced property that its burden could be put down, and it would be protected in perpetuity and enjoyed by all of our fellow Americans.  Unfortunately the jaws of commercialism continued 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.

The campaign to purchase and protect the Elkhorn back in 2005 was initiated for two reasons.  First, a real estate developer wanted to purchase it and divide it up into ranchettes.  Second, the local Billings County Commissioners wanted to build a bridge to service oil wells east of the ranch across the Little Missouri River through the north corner of the ranch, and a road through the middle above referenced view shed.  With the help of the national coalition we’d built, and your voice, we quashed the idea of building a bridge that invaded the solitude and sanctity of this sacred site solely to service oil wells.

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 as described above.  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.
As to threat deadlines, the first is June 8th, which is the 30-day deadline for public comment on the U.S. Forest Service’s draft Environmental Assessment (EA) study on the application to develop the gravel pit.  In the announcement publishing the EA, the Forest Service has indicated its preferred option is to issue the permit subject to their listed requirements.  The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently reviewing the County Commissioners’ application for the bridge and road, with three public hearings scheduled for June 5th and 7th, 2012.

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.

The U.S. Forest Service has nominated 4,400 acres of the Elkhorn Ranchlands to be designated as a National Historic District.  Even though 4,400 acres of the Elkhorn is now approaching National Historic District designation out of the 23,550 acres initially acquired, that alone will not protect it from commercial development as I’ve described, nor will landmark status.  Only a national monument designation under the 1906 Antiquities Act will protect it.

The purpose of this article is to update the Association on the current threats that besiege the Elkhorn.  To thwart these, rebuilding the coalition and the Advisory Council that was established back in 2005 (“Friends of the Elkhorn Ranch”), is essential to building support to secure a national monument designation for essentially the viewshed and TR’s original ranch site, 4,400 acres total.

Please write a letter before June 8, 2012, protesting the Forest Service’s issuance of a permit to mine gravel on the Elkhorn as the following EA language directs:

Comments on the Draft EA are requested from you and other reviewers.

  I, (Ronald W. Jablonski, Jr.) as the Responsible Official, will consider all public comments before making a decision.  In order to retain your administrative appeal rights, you must provide timely, substantive written, oral, or electronic comments.  Comments should include: (1) name, address, telephone number, and organization represented, if any; (2) title of the document on which the comment is being submitted [Environmental Assessment Elkhorn Gravel Pit, USDA Dakota Prairie Grasslands, Medora Ranger District, Billings County, North Dakota, May, 2012]; and (3) specific facts and supporting reasons for me to consider. Individuals or a representative from each organization submitting substantive comments must either sign the comments or verify identity upon request. Comments received in response to this solicitation, including names and addresses of those who comment, will be considered part of the public record and will be available for public inspection.
     Written comments must be postmarked by the Postal Service, e-mailed, faxed, or otherwise submitted by 11:59 p.m. on the 30th calendar day (i.e. June 8, 2012) following publication of the Notice of Comment in the Bismarck Tribune (May 12, 2012). Hand delivered comments must be time and date imprinted at the correct Responsible Official’s office by the close of business on the 30th calendar day following publication of the Notice of Comment in the Bismarck Tribune.  Written comments may be submitted to Ronald W. Jablonski, Jr., District Ranger, Medora Ranger District, 99 23rd Avenue West, Suite B, Dickinson, ND 58601.
The May 2012 Elkhorn Gravel Pit Draft EA and associated Appendices may be viewed at: on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands web site.

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