The ramp-up of the oil boom in western North Dakota has had local and state agencies playing catchup for three or four years — in particular, when it came to transportation and housing infrastructure and providing essential services. Much progress has been made.
A case now can be made that the state needs to catch up on the protection of cultural heritage, wildlife and natural history sites.
North Dakota needs to find that balance between development and preservation that best serves its citizens now and in the future.
Initial steps are being taken along those lines:
-- The Legislature established the North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund to assist state agencies, tribal governments, political subdivisions and nonprofit with preservation and enhancement of wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities and conservation projects. Funding: $30 million for the next two years.
-- A list of 40 sites, including roadless areas, wildlife habitat and cultural features, have been nominated to the Industrial Commission for protection in the oil-leasing process.
-- The members of the Industrial Commission — Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring — are individually visiting potentially vulnerable cultural heritage sites and key habitats in western North Dakota over the next several weeks. Dalrymple recently spent nine hours one day in cars and in the air visiting nine sites in western North Dakota. Similar tours are expected by Stenehjem and Goehring.
The idea is to not lease, or lease with restriction, certain sites because they are vulnerable to development and need to be preserved for the common good. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department and state Parks and Recreation Department have been providing information to the state Department of Trust Lands, which controls state properties put on the mineral auction block.
Up until recently, neither the state Game and Fish Department nor the state Parks and Recreation Department have been at the table when key decisions were made about oil development in the western counties. They need to be strong voices for the lands and natural resources that they manage. Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand and Parks Director Mark Zimmerman need to step up. Both men traveled with Dalrymple on his recent tour of western sites. We can only hope that they made strong cases to the governor for preservation where it’s needed.
The members of the Industrial Commission need frank advice from these two agencies, as well as the state Health Department. Clearly, Lynn Helms, the director of the Mineral Resources Department, has the bully pulpit when it comes to oil exploration and production issues before the Industrial Commission. His voice needs to be challenged on particular issues.
Oil is in North Dakota’s future. We’ve consistently acknowledged oil’s role and stated that it needs to be done right. Finding the balance between development and preservation is a part of North Dakota doing oil development right. The developing controversy over the Killdeer Mountains Battlefield tells us we are not there yet.