ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Editorial: Take threats to Badlands, Little Missouri River seriously

The bill passed the Senate 47-0 and the House 76-11. So, the odds of Gov. Doug Burgum vetoing it are slim. Still, attention should be paid to House Bill 1020. That's because the bill makes plain how far North Dakota's balance is tipping toward oi...

The bill passed the Senate 47-0 and the House 76-11. So, the odds of Gov. Doug Burgum vetoing it are slim.

Still, attention should be paid to House Bill 1020. That's because the bill makes plain how far North Dakota's balance is tipping toward oil development and away from Badlands conservation and recreation values.

It does this by authorizing something up that for 42 years has been illegal: industrial use of Little Missouri River water. The Little Missouri is North Dakota's only state-designated scenic river and the waterway that flows through Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

One could say that "the integrity of the Little Missouri River corridor is significant to the entire state, region and nation," and one would be right. But Burgum already knows this. That's because those words are from a conservation easement request he signed onto a few years ago, when he and some friends were trying to protect ranchland they own from development.

Credit Jim Fuglie-former North Dakota tourism director, current Badlands conservation activist and blogger-with finding that easement request, as well as with uncovering the history and importance of HB 1020.

ADVERTISEMENT

In a remarkable series of posts at ThePrairieBlog.areavoices.com, Fuglie tells the story. It starts in 1975, when the Legislature passed the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act.

"The purpose of this chapter shall be to preserve the Little Missouri River as nearly as possible in its present state," the bill begins. Then it spells out various protections-including this one:

"Channelization, reservoir construction, or diversion other than for agricultural or recreational purposes ... are expressly prohibited." (Emphasis added.)

As Fuglie writes, "the law remains there, untouched, 42 years later." So, it was plenty inconvenient for the North Dakota State Water Commission when Fuglie pointed the law out.

You see, the commission has been violating the Scenic River Act with abandon in recent years, by letting fracking trucks pull up to the Little Missouri and drink their fill.

HB 1020 responds by amending the act to make such "diversions" legal.

The trucks taking their Big Gulps may already have affected the river's water level, Fuglie writes. And it's not like the Little Missouri-which you can walk across in places on many days of the year-has lots of water to spare.

Then there's the easement request. In it, Burgum and others asked the state to bar development on their own stretch of the river.

ADVERTISEMENT

"But now, Gov. Burgum, you're governor of the whole state, and responsible for protecting the entire Little Missouri River, 'the only state-designated scenic river in North Dakota,' as you so ably pointed out in your easement papers," Fuglie writes.

As mentioned, HB 1020 seems likely to become law. But even if that happens, North Dakotans should take stock, and tilt the Badlands balance back toward conservation and recreation before it's too late.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
What To Read Next