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Gov. Dalrymple tours western ND historical sites staring down oil development

Conservationist Rob Sand speaks with Gov. Jack Dalrymple during the governor's visit to Little Missouri State Park on Thursday.

LITTLE MISSOURI STATE PARK -- By air, car, foot and river ford, Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Thursday saw a sizeable chunk of the sites on a list for possible protection from future oil and gas drilling.

After compiling a list of about 40 places with historical, biological or archeological significance, the North Dakota Industrial Commission -- comprised of Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring -- is now tasked with visiting the sites.

Dalrymple said he did the tours to send a message to conservationists: He gets it.

"The reason why we want to show we're familiar with some of these spots is to reassure people that we're not overlooking any," he said Thursday evening at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, his last stop of a day that started at 7 a.m.

"The only way to prove that is to go there."

The governor visited the Theodore Roosevelt National Park -- including the historic Elkhorn Ranch site -- Long X Divide, parts of Killdeer Mountain and other significant places.

Thursday morning, he also took an aerial tour of Bullion Butte, Kinley Plateau, Square Butte and Tracy Mountain.

For some of the visits, representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the state Historical Society guided Dalrymple, policy adviser Andrea Travnicek said.

"We're not blind to the situation" of oil development affecting the natural environment, he said in his remarks from Little Missouri State Park.

He said he's confident in the standards used to evaluate permit applications -- including having state agencies like the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the State Historical Society review them for possible problems.

"We have in many, many cases altered the location of a drilling pad" to protect significant land, he said.

He said it's important for all the commissioners to see the sites themselves so if they try to influence oil companies to adopt certain stipulations for sensitive sites, "we know what we're asking for."

For example, he was pleased to see the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt State Park from its northern boundary, as that's where there's concern about obstructing the viewscape.

Dalrymple and his crew forded a river to get to Elkhorn Ranch, where Roosevelt built a home in the 1880s. While only the foundation of the ranch remains, "You can see where [Roosevelt] sat, what the sounds were like," Dalrymple said.

He said the other commissioners will likely do their tours this month and next.

The commissioners planned to tour the sites individually because of their busy schedules.

Dalrymple said the sites he saw were mostly places to protect preemptively, rather than "hot spots" that need immediate protection.

"It's not like [oil and gas companies] are about to pounce on these areas."

The people fighting for land conservation, he said, just want to be sure that when the time comes to talk about leasing land or giving out a permit, the state is aware that it might want to add some stipulations.

Rob Sand, a Killdeer conservationist who wants to keep further drilling off Killdeer Mountains, attended Dalrymple's event.

Sand's Killdeer Mountain Alliance sent Dalrymple a letter requesting, among other things, that he tour the mountains, a wish granted Thursday.

As for the future of Killdeer and other sites, Sand said, "The proof's gonna be in the pudding."