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Pates: Dakota Access protesters missed meetings, input chances

MINOT, N.D. -- The recent North Dakota Stockmen's Association annual meeting displayed a level of alarm over the Dakota Access Pipeline protest that I haven't seen before. The NDSA is a grassroots community that comes up with its legislative and ...

MINOT, N.D. - The recent North Dakota Stockmen's Association annual meeting displayed a level of alarm over the Dakota Access Pipeline protest that I haven't seen before.

The NDSA is a grassroots community that comes up with its legislative and administrative agendas through thought and democratic vote. Wade Moser, a Bismarck, N.D., rancher and former NDSA executive vice president, offered this resolution that passed on Sept. 24. He says it has impacts beyond the incident itself:

"Whereas, an illegal protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has drawn national attention; and whereas, this protest has caused problems for the ranching community and law enforcement to carry out their normal duties; and whereas, all legal procedures and permitting requirements and permitting have been followed; and whereas, the failure of the federal government and protesters to recognize the legal process and abide by it puts animal agriculture in jeopardy for future projects that will impact the livestock industry. Therefore be it resolved, the NDSA supports a peaceful and lawful resolution to the DAPL construction process."

Moser says the thing that troubles him is how the DAPL went through a legal process to carry out their business. "And after the fact, it has been stalled, shut down, and now we have the (Obama) administration coming in to say, well, maybe we had better change the rules of the game," he says.

Livestock impacts

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"It reflects on the processes that we in agriculture go through to site a feedlot or to take care of our business," says Moser, who has no financial connection to the pipeline. "When we go through a legal process that's recognized and approved and then somebody wants to stop it after the fact, I think that's setting a very bad legal precedent."

Moser has friends in the path of the pipeline, some who can't get their kids to school safely. He's heard about school buses being stopped and some that have escorts. "Having masked people stop cars on the road and say you're not going through this road - that's very stressful on the kids as well as the parents," Moser says.

He is especially bothered the intimidating tactics have been unnecessary because the opponents of the project had opportunities for input and failed to do it. "It seems nobody in this whole country wants to recognize the fact that we do have laws and that laws should be obeyed," he says.

I have contacted individual ranchers about the situation, asking them to tell their story. These are rugged individuals, but are afraid for their families and have so far declined.

On Sept. 29, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring boldly issued his first statement on the protest - a full month after the protest started. "Fences are being cut, hay is being stolen, roads are being blocked by activists in masks and motorists are being forced off the road," Goehring said. His suggestion: call the Morton County Sheriff.

Me? I agree with Moser and thank him for speaking up. I could respect the protesters more if they had fully engaged in the system like the NDSA does. Farmers and ranchers should not have to pay the price if tribes or others fail to engage the political system. If there is economic disruption, it's up to government - local, state or federal - to step in and protect those who make the economy go and follow the rule of law.

Opinion by Mikkel Pates
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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