OUR OPINION: Elkhorn Ranch needs permanent protection
Threat averted. This time. But one thing's for sure when it comes to the development pressure now squeezing Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch: There will be a next time and a time after that. And while the odds of conservationists winning any in...
But one thing's for sure when it comes to the development pressure now squeezing Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch: There will be a next time and a time after that.
And while the odds of conservationists winning any individual battle are good, the odds of saving the landscape against any and all incursions to come are much poorer.
That's why the state and federal governments now must act. North Dakota boasts a handful of conservation gems that deserve to be protected for all time. The Elkhorn Ranch is one; the case for its protection even has been made in person to the president of the United States, and by a great-grandson of Roosevelt himself, no less.
The public's quick and vocal reaction against last week's threat shows the pent-up desire to protect the landscape. State and federal leaders should heed that call and take steps to set the cabin site and its viewshed apart, now and forever.
Last week's story came and went fast, a testimony to the ranch's importance and power. Here's the Bismarck Tribune's initial report from March 18:
"An oil company has staked out a four-well oil pad less than a mile from where Theodore Roosevelt's 1880s-era cabin site is preserved at the National Park Service's Elkhorn Ranch north of Medora.
"Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said the possible location for the wells represents the single worst threat to the park in its history.
"'We certainly can't put oil wells right next to the Elkhorn Ranch. We are concerned,' Naylor said."
The oil company was to appear at a hearing this week in front of a Department of Mineral Resources board. Conservationists by the dozens also were expected: Last year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Elkhorn Ranch one of America's 11 Most Endangered Spaces, and proposals such as the oil pad prove why.
Plus, the statement by Naylor, superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, shows that the National Trust and other groups aren't crying wolf.
It takes a lot to qualify as the worst threat to T.R. National Park in the park's history. But this proposal would have built an oil rig right next to the parking lot used by visitors to the remote site. America's cradle of conservation would have been subjected to the dust and roar of 10,000 trucks.
Clearly, the proposal made the "worst threat" grade.
To their credit, XTO Energy was paying attention:
"The company that staked a four-well oil pad near the boundary line of the Theodore National Park's Elkhorn Ranch site has withdrawn its application, at least for now," the Tribune reported Friday.
That's great news for North Dakotans and the residents of the other 49 states. But it's also a reminder of the size and immediacy of the development threat.
The fate of the Elkhorn Ranch shouldn't depend on corporate goodwill. Nor should Americans be left wondering what would have happened if conservationists hadn't learned about the hearing.
The ranch is a national treasure whose significance depends on its being left in a natural state. North Dakota and the nation should take this episode as a wake-up call, then bring the National Forest Service, the National Park Service and state officials together to protect the site.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald