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Letter: ND grasslands not place to expedite infrastructure projects

President Obama has selected the Little Missouri National Grassland as one of 14 infrastructure projects from across the nation.

Most North Dakotans know the Little Missouri National Grassland as the Badlands, which we sort of lump in with that scenic stretch that surrounds the three units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. To me this is not an area I'd see fit to select as an "infrastructure project" where permitting and environmental review processes for oil and gas development should be expedited.

The Little Missouri National Grassland is the largest national grassland in public ownership. North Dakota should be proud. It makes up a tiny 2.4 percent of the land area of North Dakota. It is our treasure. It deserves a more thoughtful management process.

The Bakken covers 14,000 square miles, or 1/5 of North Dakota, and that doesn't include the ever-expanding Three Forks and Tyler and Spearfish that any western North Dakotan knows is part of our oil patch. Direct impacts of that development -- both good and bad -- are easily reaching out into half our state landscapes and communities.

The only place where we the people can really have any say in this development is on public land, and even that is limited. Currently, 95 percent of the Little Missouri National Grassland is open to oil and gas development. Is that not enough? Must we expedite the process?

Less than 4 percent of the Little Missouri Grassland, a mere 1/10 of 1 percent of the area of North Dakota is managed for its undeveloped qualities. There is nothing permanent about that number. It is only a fleeting administrative protection.

In the early 1970s the number of acres stood at over 500,000, by the late 1970s the acreage had been cut in half. Today, less than 40,000 acres in four discreet parcels, each with knock-your-socks-off beauty, are managed for their undeveloped qualities.

I love North Dakota. We need to permanently protect those valued remnants that are left -- that 1/10 of 1 percent. If we don't claim them while we can, you can bet they're gone.

Lillian Crook, Bismarck