Wilderness

If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of our technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.
— President Lyndon B. Johnson, upon signing the Wilderness Act of 1964

Wilderness is many things to many people.  To some it is as simple as an overgrown back yard.

For BCA, Wilderness is public land as defined by the national Wilderness Act of 1964 to establish permanent protection for “land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation…which generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticed".

Currently 1/10th of 1 percent of the land area in the state of North Dakota is officially protected as Wilderness.

Chase Lake Wilderness was established in 1975 and encompasses 4,155 acres of the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge (4,385 acres total) managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The majority of the surface area consists of the alkali lake itself and is well known for its impressive pelican colony.

At 5,577-acres Lostwood Wilderness was also established in 1975 and is likewise managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The larger 27,589-acre Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge in which it lies is situated on the prairie wetlands and mixed grass of the Missouri Coteau and crosses the boundary of Burke and Montrail counties. A wealth of gently rolling virgin grassland and potholes provides habitat for breeding waterfowl and grassland dependent birds.

Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness lies within the North and South Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The Park was established as a National Memorial Park in April of 1947 and gained National Park status in 1978, the same year that Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness protection was designated by Congress. Much of the North Unit is Wilderness at 19,410 of the total 24,070 acres.  In the South Unit, Wilderness lies west of the Little Missouri River and encompasses 10,510 of the total 46,159 acres.  The Park as a whole and including the third 218-acre Elkhorn Ranch Unit is 70,447 acres, a total of which 29,920 is Wilderness.

Wilderness in North Dakota and neighboring states:

  • North Dakota – 39,652 acres
  • South Dakota – 77,692 acres
  • Minnesota – 820,621 acres
  • Montana – 3,502,407 acres

Of the 3.8 million acres on twenty National Grasslands managed by the US Forest Service throughout the nation, the Little Missouri National Grassland is the largest.  Despite the US Forest Service multiple-use directive that includes Wilderness, there remains no designated Grassland Wilderness.

Wilderness can only be designated by an act of Congress and can be established only on federally owned lands.  Wilderness is typically managed by the US Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service or the US Forest Service; and management remains with its parent agency.

Livestock grazing, hunting, non-commercial rock collecting, permitted guide services, horseback riding, canoeing, hiking, camping, bird watching, scientific study, skiing and snowshoeing are all allowed in Wilderness.  Mechanical/motorized equipment and general access by motor vehicles and mechanical transport is not.

In BCA’s estimation there is no more important Wilderness in ND than that which is not yet designated.


Prairie Legacy

Badlands Conservation Alliance released Prairie Legacy Wilderness, a citizen proposal for national Wilderness designation on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands in 2008. A modest proposal, acreage included the four non-contiguous areas in the Little Missouri National Grassland managed under the 2002 Dakota Prairie Grasslands Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) as MA 1.2A – Suitable for Wilderness.  Long X Divide, immediately south of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, lies within the northern McKenzie Ranger District. Bullion Butte (on the west side of the Little Missouri River) and its sister Kendley Plateau across the river to the east lie within the southern Medora Ranger District, as does Twin Buttes to the northwest of the South Unit of the Park. Total land area of the four parcels is less than 40,000 acres, or less than 4 percent of the Little Missouri National Grassland.

Minor citizen additions to Kendley Plateau and Twin Buttes were proposed to facilitate boundary management and area integrity. Lone Butte to the east of Long X Divide had not previously been authorized for mineral lease prior to signing of the LRMP and was included in the Wilderness proposal as a special management area. A single 5,410-acre parcel in southeastern North Dakota’s Sheyenne National Grassland, the largest remnant of tallgrass prairie/oak savanna remaining in public ownership, was the final addition. Associated ND state school land sections within the proposed areas were included in the citizen proposal (only federal land may be designated by the US Congress as Wilderness) to encourage their protection by the state.

One of twenty National Grasslands (3.8 million acres total) having its origin in the large-scale land utilization program of the 1930’s, the Little Missouri National Grassland is the largest at 1,028,045 acres. No grasslands are currently enrolled in the National Wilderness Preservation System – an oversight BCA believes should be realized in the Little Missouri.

Total acreage of Prairie Legacy Wilderness is 67,710 acres or .15 tenths of one-percent of the state of North Dakota. The proposal continues to receive support from across the state. Despite inclusion of Wilderness under the US Forest Service directive for multiple-use, there remains no designated Wilderness on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands.  As only the US Congress can “make” Wilderness, ND’s Congressional delegation is key.

In the early 1970’s, over five hundred thousand acres of the 1 million-acre Little Missouri National Grassland qualified for wilderness designation. When the second Roadless Area and Review Evaluation (RARE II) was complete, the number of acres eligible for wilderness protection had been cut in half.

In the latest Dakota Prairie Grasslands Land and Resource Management Plan signed in July of 2002, roadless protections were diminished again. Pressure from the oil and gas industry on state and national leadership reduced roadless protection to approximately ten-percent, none of it permanent. Less than 40,000 acres are managed as Suitable for Wilderness with minerals unavailable for lease.

The June 2003 Oil and Gas Leasing Record of Decision cites a total of 946,280 acres (95% of the Little Missouri National Grassland) available for oil and gas leasing and nearly the entirety is is under contract.

Without the awareness and help of the citizenry and leadership of North Dakota, these remaining special landscapes will be roaded and developed for commercial use.  There is no evidence to believe otherwise.

BCA works to educate the public on the ecological, economic, and cultural importance of our unique landscape and to insure a lasting annuity – Prairie Legacy Wilderness.

Prairie. North Dakotans know prairie – the shouldering wind; the biggest sky anywhere; the grass-topped butte; a rocky outcrop; uninterrupted dune and swale; a shady draw; the ephemeral spring.

Legacy. To give and receive: it is the best of all worlds – and so uniquely reflective of humankind. These landscapes that are an American inheritance become a show of faith and a bequest to those who will follow.

Wilderness. Why? It is the national construct, the mechanism, our singularly American society has created to protect our greatest national assets.

To what end?  So that North Dakota can claim the first National Grassland Wilderness, honoring our past, recognizing the need and value for present day, and insuring high quality natural experience into the future.

Let’s be real.  With the coming of the Bakken to the Badlands of western North Dakota, we either permanently protect these last parcels of Wilderness quality landscape, or they will be gone.

Read the full proposal.


Biodiversity Conservation

To restore the land one must live and work in a place. To work in a place is to work with others. People who work in a place become a community, and community, in time, grows a culture. To work on behalf of the wild is to restore culture.
— “The Rediscovery of Turtle Island” by Gary Snyder

Biodiversity conservation is about saving all the pieces.  Having played out over 3.5 billion years to express itself as we view the natural world today, BCA believes it is our human responsibility to recognize our place in sustaining ecosystems: to nurture where required; to do no harm.

With our focus on public lands in western North Dakota, and particularly the valley, breaks and uplands of the Little Missouri State Scenic River, we have our work cut out for us. Intermingled private, state and federal land ownership and management allows us a wealth and range of opportunity.  Exurban development, agricultural practices, recreation and tourism activities and particularly the current Bakken oil impacts affect sustainable biodiversity.  Each of us does.

Think mountain lions, sage grouse, bighorn sheep.  We would add in this day and age that we must also think ranchers, longtime community residents on fixed incomes, lovers of the land.

Healthy sustainable habitat is the basis of biodiversity.  With that habitat there must be an adequate abundance of food, water, cover, and space.  The loss of any single requirement threatens the sustainability of the remaining three, or two, or one.

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
— Round River by Aldo Leopold

BCA advances the following precepts in guiding its efforts:

  • Sound stewardship of public, private and Tribal lands is necessary for restoring and conserving the ecoregion’s biodiversity;
  • The land and its wildlife are important culturally and spiritually for many people, but especially for North American native people;
  • Conservation can often benefit local communities by stimulating a more diverse and lasting economy;
  • Partnerships between conservationists and local communities will be crucial for achieving and maintain biodiversity conservation goals.

In 2003, the Northern Plains Conservation Network (a cooperative effort of over twenty participating organizations) completed research on Ocean of Grass: A Conservation Assessment for the Northern Great Plains.  It identified ten areas having potential for broad scale ecological restoration. The Little Missouri National Grassland in western North Dakota ranked in the top three.

Such is the intrinsic value of protecting all pieces of our Badlands landscape.  BCA will continue to devote itself to that end.


Energy Development

On occasion it requires the good sense and moral energy to say no to things otherwise possible and, for some, profitable.
— Earth in Mind by David W. Orr

It is without argument that oil and gas development of the Bakken Shale Formation resource play will have a great impact on the ecological integrity of the public lands of western North Dakota. Industrialization of the 15,000 square mile Bakken is well under way.

It is also likely that most members of the Badlands Conservation Alliance wish the kind of pervasive development allowed by the technological wizardy of combined directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing had not come with the frenzied speed, scope and scale that it did.

A speculator’s dream in 2005, by 2006 the Bakken was a paper reality and by 2009 the perfect storm began to supersede life and landscape in western ND. This was not the proverbial straw honing in on its payload; this was mining the rock two miles down and two miles out.  Communities and traditional land use is being changed for generations to come. The historical land ethic across western North Dakota has been usurped by industrialization largely beyond rational control and without proper scrutiny and planning.

Cease being intimidated by the argument that a right action is impossible because it does not yield maximum profits, or that a wrong action is to be condoned because it pays.
— A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

Comparative Geography

  • The state of North Dakota encompasses 70,762 square miles equivalent to 45,287,680 acres.
  • The 15,000 square mile Bakken at 9,600,000 acres underlies one/fifth of the state of North Dakota.
  • At 70,466.8 acres (or a combined 110.1 square miles) the three non-contiguous units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are located within the boundary of the 1-million-acre Little Missouri National Grassland.
  • All three units of the National Park and the northern half of the Little Missouri National Grassland lie within the Bakken play.
  • The currently active Three Forks Formation underlies the Bakken and extends south.
  • Not yet under active production, the oil-bearing Tyler Formation is beneath the southern Badlands and development is likely with improving technology.

How Did We Get Here?

In the early 1970’s, over five hundred thousand acres of the 1 million-acre Little Missouri National Grassland qualified for wilderness designation. When the second Roadless Area and Review Evaluation (RARE II) was complete, the number of acres eligible for wilderness protection had been cut in half.

In the latest Dakota Prairie Grasslands Land and Resource Management Plan signed in July of 2002, roadless protections were diminished again. Pressure from the oil and gas industry on state and national leadership reduced roadless protection to approximately ten-percent, none of it permanent. Less than 40,000 acres are managed as Suitable for Wilderness with minerals unavailable for lease.

The June 2003 Oil and Gas Leasing Record of Decision cites a total of 946,280 acres (95% of the Little Missouri National Grassland) available for oil and gas leasing and the majority is under contract.

Oil and Gas Leases

  • Most private leases are for three years.
  • State school land leases managed by the ND Department of Trust Lands are for five years.
  • Federal leases are managed by the US Bureau of Land Management (whether under US Forest Service surface, another federal agency, or private land) and are for 10 years.
  • Leases must be drilled and producing to hold a lease.  The difference in lease terms explains much of the ferocity and speed of Bakken development.

Oil and Gas Impacts on Public Lands

Landownership within the boundaries of the Little Missouri National Grasslands includes intermingled private, state and federal ownership.  Due as much to lease terms as regulation, there are to date fewer rigs drilling on public land than private or state.  However, the intermingled status of surface ownership has often prompted industry to choose to drill on private surface when accessing minerals under public surface in order to avoid more stringent federal regulation.  Oil development is occurring within the Little Missouri National Grassland and adjacent to the National Park.

It is not simply the wells and oil pads that impact the landscape.  Associated infrastructure including new and upgraded roads, tank batteries, pipelines for crude oil, natural gas, fresh and produced (brine) waters, railroad transport facilities, salt water disposal wells, waste treatment facilities, natural gas plants and compressors, storage yards are all part of the equation.

With this infrastructure comes wildlife habitat fragmentation, light pollution, noise, increased traffic, fugitive dust, scenic degradation and spills – an industrialized landscape with threats to humans, communities, wildlife, and traditional land use - be it agricultural, recreational, or ecological.  North Dakota’s historic and cultural land ethic is at risk.

With minimally 30 year life spans anticipated for Bakken wells and an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 new wells drilled over two or more decades, it is our grandchildren or great grandchildren that will be left with the Bakken’s reclamation and aftermath.

Badlands Conservation Alliance believes it is a citizen responsibility to safeguard our own and our progeny’s future while demanding strictest adherence to best management strategies, up to and including further protection of the treasures we have been granted in the Badlands of western North Dakota.

Such vigilance applies to all other minerals, both surface and subsurface.