Nothing clarifies the importance of “culturally important” sites in the North Dakota landscape like standing at the point of interest — on the crest of a butte, along the Missouri River, where historic figures stood. These places “sell” themselves.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission will tour a list of sites, mostly in the Badlands, that could be considered for preservation through the present oil boom — preserved by restricting leasing and limiting drilling.
It might seem a low-tech, lay approach to assessing the importance of the state’s landscape, but the members of the Industrial Commission should have personal knowledge of these important features. It will help them sort through the testimony from interested parties, landowners, oil companies and the state’s experts.
Not all of the members of the Industrial Commission are “westerners,” with boots-on-the-ground experiences in some of the more isolated parts of the Badlands.
The idea for the tour came from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is a member of the Industrial Commission along with Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. It developed after a controversy erupted over a proposal to put a drilling pad in the parking lot of Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn cabin site.
In the aftermath, the governor said the site was too “culturally important” to drill, and it just wouldn’t happen. That raised the question as to what else should be protected. People wanted to know what they could count on to be preserved. Hence, the idea for a list. This is in addition to work the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is doing to identify sites where wildlife might be especially vulnerable to oil development.
The decision to have the Industrial Commission tour these sites will give the members a better idea what kind of “view protection” might be involved. It could help give them a context for the expert reports offered by those managing state lands and the auction and leasing process.
North Dakota will have oil development, and there will be conflicts between industry and those who wish to protect the land. It’s inevitable. For those making decisions, like the Industrial Commission members, managing that conflict depends upon good information.
For those interested in preserving parts of the Badlands from oil development, there’s a belief that personally experiencing the landscape is the best way to win support from the Industrial Commission, and it may be right.