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Editorial: Trample the Wild West

Environmental laws are being trampled along with wild lands that make North Dakota, North Dakota.

Tuesday, the House approved a bill that would give the Border Patrol the right to circumvent more than a dozen environmental laws on federal lands within 100 miles of borders of Mexico and Canada -- a nice blow to a number of states, including North Dakota and its pristine natural areas.

In an unrelated matter, North Dakota may be adding a bridge and gravel pit to areas surrounded by grasslands and near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Within the past month or so, there has been quite a push toward halting these plans to build the bridge across the Little Missouri River, and to stop the gravel pit from being created, both of which could impact the Elkhorn Ranch.

"The conservation ethic was born right here," one man says of the Billings County Elkhorn Ranch.

The ethic is that of President Theodore Roosevelt, who came to the area looking for solitude and settled for a time. In the 100-plus years since, many have also traveled to this area for solitude. He found it. Many found it. Many may lose it.

"He came away with a conservation philosophy," Lowell Baier also said of TR's time in western North Dakota. The Theodore Roosevelt Association trustee and Boone and Crockett president emeritus shared his thoughts during a visit to The Dickinson Press earlier this week.

Roosevelt saw destruction of the countryside when he arrived as he watched cattle overgraze the land and foresters timbering what they could. Now we see oil trucks, roads and rigs rearranging the area.

Roosevelt set aside more than 230 million acres of land in the form of National Parks, National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges and National Forests for public use. Can we do the same for him, with keeping clear the view and serenity of the by-comparison-mere 213 acres he settled in at the Elkhorn Ranch?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation sees the importance and added the ranch to its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places on June 6.

Billings County commissioners say the bridge will provide a reliable transportation link. Those who favor it say it would be more convenient for traffic and emergency services.

The bridge would be in an area between the South and North units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and connect Highway 85 to Highway 16. The plan specifically points out a lack of reliable river crossings and increased traffic demands from the oil and gas industry.

Though the bridge would not butt up to the ranchland, there is concern.

This is oil country -- hardy oil country with its semis, dust and noise that come along with the money, jobs and the industry's claim to ease prices and demands and dependence on foreign countries.

Then there is the gravel pit. An owner of mineral rights has applied to the Forest Service for a permit.

Interestingly, The Forest Service was formed during the Roosevelt administration and today is a major decision maker in the project.

Visitors already have undesired distant views of oil-related structures while hiking in far-off areas of Teddy Roosevelt National Park. This is a place one often goes to in an effort to remove themselves from mankind and for pause.

The oil and the Badlands may be here forever, but it is unclear in what condition and of what plentitude.

What's the trade off -- is it money or truly a need?

Yes, free enterprise is important, but drawing that line between free enterprise and conservation must be done with a very steady hand.

You can't go back and fix it. You don't get second chances once you take away the solitude and rearrange the landscape.

Roosevelt understood this.

Once that bridge is there, once that gravel pit is there, it's there. Reclaiming the land does not leave it the same.

According to the impact statements, input and comments from agencies and the public will be a large part of the decision-making process, so get involved.

The state creed begins, "We believe in North Dakota, in the beauty of her skies, and in the glory of her prairies."

As the landscape quickly changes beyond her natural state and the skies above are filled with all that comes with a boom, maybe it's time to change the creed.

Publisher Harvey Brock and Editor Jennifer McBride are on The Press Editorial Board.