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 Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager
Last week the United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a new oil and gas assessment of the Bakken and Three Forks Formations—the 200,000 square mile rock unit that spans parts of North Dakota, Montana, and Saskatchewan, Canada, and which rests below Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch landscape. The assessment shows that the formation contains an estimated mean of 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered, recoverable oil, a two-fold increase over 2008 estimates. And it is not just oil that is being drilled, natural gas and natural gas liquids are also available in copious amounts, both now estimated to be in recoverable quantities three times previous estimates.
All of this is to say that the threat of oil and gas development at the Elkhorn Ranch will not be diminishing any time soon. Technologies like hydraulic fracturing make it easier now more than ever to recover every last drop of oil and natural gas. According to the National Parks Conservation Association’s (NPCA) recently released report entitled National Parks and Hydraulic Fracturing: Balancing Energy Needs, Nature, and America’s National Heritage, “fracking” comprises 90 percent of domestic oil and gas production, and more than one-third of America’s national parks lie directly above or less than 25 surface miles from oil and gas deposits.
The report details the negative impacts of fracking on wildlife habitat; scenic views, natural sounds, and night skies; water quantity and quality; and air pollution in our national parks. Recommendations are provided with a stern warning that a measured, careful approach to fracking needs to be taken to avoid irreparably damaging America’s heritage. This includes the Elkhorn Ranch and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, one of seven case studies included in the NPCA report due to the great oil and gas development threat it faces.
Written by Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager
Today, the Center for American Progress released a video entitled A Boom with No Boundaries: How Drilling Threatens Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The short film explores the negative impacts of oil and gas drilling on one of America’s 59 national parks. As the Bakken Formation in western North Dakota continues to experience increased minerals extraction activity more and more people are beginning to realize that although there are financial benefits to the industry there is also much being sacrificed. This film specifically highlights the loss of natural and cultural resources at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the surrounding landscape that includes Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch.
The release of the Center for American Progress video could not have come at a better time as North Dakota newspapers continue to print stories on the recently withdrawn XTO Energy drilling permit that would have allowed up to four wells directly adjacent to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Many of those newspapers printed editorials calling for the North Dakota Industrial Commission to avoid areas like the Elkhorn Ranch from oil and gas development due to the importance of the places to the history of North Dakota and the Nation. The National Trust heartily agrees with this approach and is working with partners to achieve it.
By Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager
A little over a week ago the National Trust learned that a drilling permit application from XTO Energy on a 1280-acre spacing unit directly adjacent to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park would be heard by the North Dakota Industrial Commission on March 28th as part of the state approval process. Stakes had already been placed in the ground, one a mere 100 feet from the visitor parking lot, marking the location of a well pad on the Little Missouri National Grasslands that could include up to four wells. The visual impacts alone of such a development so close to the Elkhorn Ranch would severely damage the national treasure, not to mention the effects of the noise, heavy truck traffic, and pollution.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park superintendant Valerie Naylor called the threat the worst in the Park’s history. In response, the National Trust and partners quickly jumped to action and mounted a public engagement campaign to build a collective voice requesting an alternate location that would not harm the Elkhorn Ranch. State and national media had already been sharing the news and creating a buzz earlier in the week. Just this morning, before we could even implement our entire engagement strategy, we learned that XTO Energy withdrew their application.
We applaud XTO Energy for reconsidering this development and urge them to work with the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service to find a more suitable drilling location. While this is a step in the right direction we want to make sure that the same or similar threat will not resurface. David Brown, National Trust Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer, released a press statement emphasizing the need to remain alert to this issue. The Elkhorn Ranch and Theodore Roosevelt National Park are irreplaceable places for both North Dakotans and Americans alike. We understand that oil and gas extraction is an important piece of North Dakota’s economy, but it should not be at the expense of the “Cradle of Conservation” and the state’s only national park.
Written by Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager
On February 14, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt's diary entry included a large 'X' and the words, "The light has gone out of my life."
Tragically, Theodore Roosevelt lost his mother and first wife on that day 129 years ago. His mother, Mittie, died of typhoid fever in the early morning hours and his wife, Alice, succumbed to kidney failure several hours later in the same house. She had given birth to their first child, Alice, only two days earlier. Roosevelt's devastation led him to never again talk about his first wife.
That June Roosevelt headed west to his beloved North Dakota Badlands to seek solitude and soothe his grief. A year earlier he had purchased the Maltese Cross Cabin in Medora and delved into the world of cattle ranching. His cattle had wintered well and he made the decision to expand his ranching business, purchasing the rights to a second site 35 miles north of Medora. He named it the Elkhorn Ranch. By the spring of 1885 the cottonwood log ranch home and outbuildings were complete. Roosevelt would own the ranch for another 14 years before selling it to Sylvane Ferris, one of his managers and partners at the Maltese Cross Cabin.
The Elkhorn Ranch not only provided Roosevelt with a healing outlet for his tragic loss, it also further exposed him to the growing loss of wildlife and wilderness in the North Dakota Badlands due to overhunting and overgrazing. During his presidency, Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service and enabled the Antiquities Act. The latter allowed him to designate 18 National Monuments across the country. He would go on to protect wildlife and public lands by designating numerous national parks, forests, and preserves on more than 230 million acres of public land.
Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch helped lay the foundation for the president's deep conservation legacy. The national importance of this is the reason that the National Trust continues to advocate for protection of the Elkhorn Ranch from incompatible development. Later this month we will be meeting with a broad array of partners in North Dakota to further strategize how to best tackle this issue. The support for the Elkhorn Ranch is vast, and we are optimistic that solutions can be found to preserve the legacy of the nation's 26th President.
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.