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North Dakotans push back against Biden 30-by-30 initiative, calling it a 'land grab'

President Joe Biden signed an executive order to address "catastrophic climate change," putting into action his plan for 30% of all American land to be federally protected by 2030. Recently, we spoke with three leaders in the state who denounced it as a rapacious land grab.

Roosevelt Road
In this photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site near Medora, North Dakota, is pictured in 2007.
Contributed / U.S. Forest Service
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In January of 2021, President Joe Biden signed a 21-page executive order to address what he described as a domestic and global climate crisis.

“We have a narrow moment to pursue action at home and abroad in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of that crisis and to seize the opportunity that tackling climate change presents,” the document stated.

Many land owners, farmers and ranchers in North Dakota have raised concerns about a provision called the 30-by-30 initiative. In it, the Biden Administration seeks to “encourage broad participation in the goal of conserving 30%" of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

Professor Dave Aiken, an agricultural law specialist at the University of Nebraska, gathered data on how much land currently fits the definition of "protected" by the federal government.

“There are about 2 trillion acres in the U.S. Thirty percent of this equals 729 million acres. And 12%, or 292 million acres, are already permanently protected according to the U.S. Geological Survey,” Aiken said in an article on the school’s website. “So, 18%, or 437 million additional acres, would need to be protected in order to reach the 30x30 goal.”

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The North Dakota Farm Bureau (NDFB) has come out against the initiative, citing concerns about due process and private property rights. In North Dakota, 93% of the land is owned by non-governmental entities. The NDFB recently held meetings in New Salem and Dickinson to seek input from the public.

In a May report when the 30-by-30 idea was first proposed by the White House, the U.S. Department of the Interior addressed this by releasing a report insisting the government will respect property rights. But many in Roughrider Country aren’t buying it.

During an interview with The Dickinson Press, Bowman County Sheriff Frank Eberle estimated that 500 citizens attended the Jan. 25 meeting in Dickinson. Eberle called the initiative a sinister land grab and said he was pleased to see so many people show up to make their voices heard.

“They have to have due process to take those lands away from people,” he said. “If you have private property it belongs to you, not the government. So without due process, I would use the law to my fullest advantage to protect private property. I’d deputize as many people as necessary to prevent the federal government from taking it away from somebody.”

Eberle said that under North Dakota statutory law, he has the authority to deputize as many citizens of Bowman as he feels are needed to uphold the law and protect constitutional rights.

“The sheriff is the most powerful person in the county and the last line of defense for the people,” he said.

Sen. Jay Elkin, R-Taylor, is a fifth generation North Dakota farmer. Elkin said he believes land in this state is already protected, with or without intrusive edicts from Washington D.C. He pointed to no-till farming as an effort he and many others voluntarily engaged to prevent soil erosion.

“Ag producers have been at the forefront of conservation, whether it be farming or ranching. They protect that land, because that is their livelihood,” Elkin said. “My first priority was to take care of my land because my land took care of me… I was able to work and raise my family because of the land I farm and ranch on.”

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Elkin’s colleague, North Dakota State Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, a local business owner, agreed and called the 30-by-30 initiative "ridiculous."

“It’s typical of the Biden Administration — extreme overreach into our personal lives,” Lefor said. “It’s unfortunate that we have to wake up every morning to see how the federal government is going to further intrude in our daily lives. This is a ridiculous proposal that shouldn’t even be printed on paper.”

According to Lefor, every possible step must be taken, including through the state’s congressional delegation, to push back against this potential violation of land rights.

“I would ask the governor to make sure the Biden Administration understands this is not how we do business in North Dakota,” he said. “Some of this land, where people work hard every single day, has gone through the generations. You spend a lot of your time and energy buying the land, producing a product, whether it's wheat or whatever it is, and then to have the federal government dictate to you what you're going to do on that land. It’s despicable.”

A recent Heritage Foundation report pointed to an example at Yosemite National Park of the burdens federal control over land can cause for local communities.

“It took three administrations (Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama), multiple trips to the courtroom, and more than 3,000 pages of environmental assessments to allow restoration plans to move forward after flooding destroyed trails, roads, bridges, campgrounds and water and sewage infrastructure,” the report stated.

Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in rural southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge.
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