Theodore Roosevelt hunted, ran cattle, and explored this expansive ranch in the rugged North Dakota Badlands in the late 19th century. It was here that the 26th president of the United States developed a deep appreciation for the American West and for conservation. Unfortunately, the serenity of the ranch, which lies on both sides of the Little Missouri River, is threatened by a proposed bridge that would introduce a visual disruption, as well as traffic, noise, and dust. In addition, the site is threatened by the potential development of private mineral rights that are scattered throughout the Elkhorn Ranchlands. An owner of a portion of those rights has proposed a gravel mine pit on a ridge within the Ranchlands and the view shed of the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
As early as the 1880s, Roosevelt witnessed the environmental degradation in the Badlands wrought by overgrazing and overhunting, an experience that led directly to the development of his influential conservation beliefs. Today, incompatible development imperils the Elkhorn Ranch landscape. Similar development threatens countless historic places on public lands across the country.
- Promote a bridge location that will not harm the ranch and the surrounding landscape.
- Provide long-term protection to Elkhorn Ranch from incompatible development.
Ways To Help
Written by David Ford, Team Member
Photographs, literature and testimonials can tell you a lot about a place and its historical significance, but nothing beats visiting in person. While I’ve been a member of the Elkhorn Ranch National Treasure team since its inception, I recently made my first trip to the North Dakota Badlands to visit the city of Medora, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and Elkhorn Ranch.
On an evening flight to Dickinson, ND, I was surprised by the number of folks aboard the aircraft. While I anticipated a small prop plane, I traveled on an Embraer jet that carried over 50 passengers to the swiftly growing town with a population of 25,000. A young man in his mid-20s seated next to me shared that he works in the oil fields. He left his wife and two children behind for a work assignment in the area which is booming because of the abundant Bakken Shale.
I was greeted upon my arrival by our project team lead, Jenny Buddenborg. While the skies were dark and didn’t provide a glimpse of the landscape, the ride from Dickinson to Medora was fairly desolate. It wasn’t too far down the road when we came across the first drilling site. As we headed towards our destination, gas flares and towering flames littered the landscape magnifying the impact of the state’s oil and gas industry.
As the sun rose the next morning, I was greeted by the magnificent landscape of the Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The trip to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit was amazingly beautiful but I was taken aback by the number of well pads that extended off the beaten path. While I expected oil and gas activity, I quickly lost count of the well pads given the sheer magnitude of the drilling sites and the numerous 18 wheeler oiler tankers on the dirt roadways that negatively impacted my experience. While visiting a landowner who provided a tour of his property overlooking the Elkhorn Ranch, he highlighted the drilling activity that is industrializing and polluting the landscape. If a surface landowner does not have subsurface mineral rights ownership, the owners of those mineral rights can set up shop on the land above and begin drilling, even if the surface landowner opposes it. Hearing the testimony of an affected rancher truly impacted me and literally brought a tear to my eyes. While this activity is not unlawful, it’s simply disheartening.
I look forward to our critical work to protect the landscape of this important National Treasure.
Written by Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager
In early March, the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) unanimously voted to approve a policy that identifies extraordinary places in North Dakota, including Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, but that provides no assurance that such places will be protected from incompatible oil and gas development. What started as a robust rules amendment proposed by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem—one of the three NDIC commissioners—ultimately turned into a watered-down version of a list of places that may or may not be given additional consideration in the State’s drilling permit process.
While the National Trust for Historic Preservation is pleased that the NDIC recognizes the importance of the Elkhorn Ranch by identifying it as an “extraordinary place,” we are dismayed that the state of North Dakota missed an opportunity to provide greater stewardship to the natural and cultural places that make it so unique. We and our partners will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with the State to ensure that the Elkhorn Ranch maintains its integrity for future generations to enjoy.
Written by Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager
Wildlife and historic preservation aren’t commonly linked in the work of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but at Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, it is not the history of the place alone that makes it so noteworthy, it is also the qualities of the natural environment and wildlife that lend to its integrity. That is why the National Trust and its partners are hosting a wildlife symposium on January 25th entitled “North Dakota’s Oil Boom: Protecting Our Hunting Heritage Action Summit.”
We invite you to this important summit of North Dakotans who want to work together to make sure the voices of North Dakotans who care about wildlife habitat and hunting are clearly heard as the state develops its oil resources in the western part of the state.
The wild game that once was a staple of western North Dakota has been impacted by oil development. We are faced with a choice of dramatically diminishing the hunting experience in that part of the state or helping to make sure that we can have oil development, healthy wildlife habitat, and the hunting experience North Dakotans expect.
The summit will be held at the Downtown Radisson in Fargo, North Dakota, from noon to 4:00 p.m. The keynote speaker is John Cooper, a renowned wildlife expert, and the facilitator is Joe Satrom, president of the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and former director of public policy for the Great Plains Region of Ducks Unlimited.
Written by Erica Stewart, Team Member
Good news from North Dakota! On December 19, the state’s Attorney General Wayne Stenehem released his list of proposed ‘special places’ and Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch was included.
The 18 identified sites are places the Attorney General believes to be so important that they deserve their own unique permitting consideration for oil and gas drilling activity. This process would require an impact mitigation plan and a public comment period to ensure that drilling’s potentially harmful effects on these places would be fully examined.
This is a great step toward protecting North Dakota’s priceless resources from its booming oil and gas industry. We will be watching closely as the commissioners discuss the proposed list and legislative amendment at a future meeting.
Learn more about our position on this historic opportunity to protect North Dakota’s precious historic and natural resources in an opinion piece by our Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer, David J. Brown, which was published December 21, 2013, by the Bismarck Tribune.
jacob on November 11, 2013
theodore rooselvelt is my great great great great great uncle
Sandra Chesrown on October 11, 2013
Although I live in Arlington, VA, I grew up in North Dakota. My grandfather ranched near the Elkhorn at the time of TR, before moving to our current ranch outside Bismarck (The Horsehead). If you need any professional help, I am a member of the NTHP and a certified urban planner with a specialty in historic preservation - worked with the CO Savings Places network before moving to VA. I would be happy to work in ND as a professional volunteer to save the Elkhorn's viewshed. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Alexis Taylor on October 03, 2013
Learning about TR, he is amazing, a wonderful president. Love learning about Elkhorn Ranch, would love to visit.
Jim Fuglie on June 06, 2012
The Elkhorn Ranch site is a tiny, remote spot in one of America's most remote landscapes, surrounded by a million acres of Badlands, mostly free from development, as natural as it was 125 years ago when Theodore Roosevelt lived and ranched here, developed his conservation ethic, and went on to become our greatest conservation president. On a crisp January day years ago, my wife Lillian and I sat on a giant fallen cottonwood log here and felt the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt all around us. We return each year to thank him for his vision and his gift to future generations.
Jenny B. on June 06, 2012
My first trip to Elkhorn Ranch was also my first trip to North Dakota. I expected something similar to the South Dakota Badlands, but the North Dakota Badlands were like nothing I had ever seen before. Pure, rugged beauty. Looking out at the Little Missouri River from the ranch site, I could easily feel what drew Theodore Roosevelt back to the place over and over again, and how that feeling cemented his cause for conservation.