BCA Accomplishments for 2015

Trying something new, BCA held our 2014 Annual Meeting in central ND to even out driving demands. It seemed to work - with our largest ever annual gathering held in the main room of Makoché Recording Studio in downtown Bismarck.  Thanks to Mike and David for providing a delightful space complete with BCA visuals and to Lynn, Graham, Mike, Robert and David for the extra help with logistics. It was a cozy and exuberant crowd with no one throwing a better potluck than BCA.

Geographic information analyst Chad Sexton from TRNP provided us with a great learning experience about the processes and application of viewshed mapping and Park efforts to mitigate oil and gas impacts. Chad’s commitment and expertise are pretty amazing and we are fortunate to have him at TRNP. 

Elected at our annual meeting, Christine Hogan, David Kingman, Tama Smith and Craig Kilber joined ongoing directors for our annual Board Retreat held this year on January 17th and 18th at John and Jennifer Hanson’s Logging Camp Ranch in the Ponderosa Pines of the southern Badlands. BCA grant writer Bonnie Palecek joined us for the weekend so we numbered ten around the table. Always an intense couple days, the Board focused discussion and set priorities on policy, financials, issues, membership, and all the necessities, pleasures and demands of running a conservation organization. 

Great vittles and their own conservation perspectives were provided by the hosts. Perhaps best of all, Hanson took early morning risers to the top of Tepee Buttes to watch the sun rise o’er the Badlands, a dramatic experience for first-timers and renewed confirmation of the wonder-of-it-all for others. 

Officers were elected:

  • Christine Hogan, president
  • Craig Kilber, vice president
  • Rich Brauhn, secretary
  • Lynn Morgenson, treasurer

Committee assignments were made:

  • Education, Tama Smith as chair
  • Funding and Development, Craig Kilber as chair
  • Communications, Rich Brauhn as chair

Members at large are always encouraged to get in touch as you see yourselves adding to effectiveness of committee work!

BCA’s twice-yearly newsletter, Wild Badlands, is the work of the Communications Committee with Rich Brauhn taking the lead. Thanks, Rich, committee and contributors! Again, feel free to submit ideas for stories, articles and photographs pertinent to BCA’s mission.

It’s been a busy and demanding year.  The BCA Board held a second face-to-face meeting on March 22 and again on July 29. Thanks to Lynn and Lillian respectively for hosting the gatherings, and to Craig for insisting on the Skype option.  In the interim directors make good use of email and phone.

The Tortuga Foundation continued to provide generous funding to BCA in 2015. They have been good to us, but we cannot depend on them into the future as the Foundation’s mission and generational torch is passed on and evolves.  New sources this year include the National Parks Conservation Association, Patagonia and the ND Natural Resources Trust (funds dedicated to educational outreach, particularly in eastern ND).  We have found that ND is not considered part of the West by many larger foundations, but are doing our very best to broaden horizons.  

You, our membership, are our greatest asset; not only by membership dues and contributions, but as evidence of the constancy of our organization. To those of you able to gift us in larger amounts -$4000, $2500 - as through the ND Community Foundation and your own private pockets books - $1500, $1000, $400, $250, $125 - BCA says many thanks for your trust and superb generosity. You make all the difference in the world! For the rest of us, we give as we can, with time and commitment a value in and of itself. Each of you is a brick in the road to our success. Watch for your renewal mailing to arrive around Thanksgiving – an excellent time to recommit to BCA’s mission. Don’t forget to encourage or gift friends and family, and remember that contributions may be made online via PayPal on the BCA webpage.

BCA held outings:

Earth Day at the Ice Caves – Saturday, April 25, 2015

Woe is me!  It is rare indeed, but the winds were blowing, and lightning and rain forecast for a 50 degree day did not promise celebration.  Calling off the day’s adventure was particularly disappointing for scouts Tama and Jan who had done the legwork  earlier to insure that all was in order for a hike from Magpie Camp to the Ice Caves. BCA will have to revisit this outing another season. The Ice Caves have been a destination before, and the scouting trip (on a beautiful spring day, mind you) only proved the glory of the idea. Next time!

Elkhorn Ranch Weekend – Saturday and Sunday, May 30 & 31, 2015

Oh, what a difference a month can make! The chill was still on in the evening, but the days were just what we’d hoped for. Tom Schmeichel and Craig Kilber took charge of this outing and did a bang up job. We didn’t get enough water in the Little Missouri River to canoe, but all proved flexible and  backup explores were many. Attendees were a wonderful mix of first timers - some to The Ranch, some to a BCA outing – and long time members. Thanks to Craig and his eastern ND friends, all of whom arrived Friday evening, we had the pleasure of four exuberant youth in our crowd, always an outing enhancer!  Thanks, Julia (13) & Grant (10) Tschosik, and Taylor (13) & Christian (11) Dietz for joining us, and for bringing your dads. Both new and old benefited from being on the land that TR knew, and gained firsthand familiarity with Billings County’s ongoing proposal to build a bridge and connector roads across the Little Missouri State Scenic River.  BCA will continue to oppose this proposed intrusion on the Elkhorn and the river valley, contesting the industrial oil and gas traffic and development that will surely follow. Meanwhile, we had a beautiful weekend!

Sheyenne River Valley – Saturday and Sunday, October 3 & 4, 2015

Topping off BCA’s warm season outings, Tama Smith with help from Lillian Crook can take credit for a great trip to public lands in the Sheyenne River Valley of southeast ND. Camping overnight at Ft. Ransom State Park – the primitive area, of course – we also hit the Sheyenne State Forest and the Sheyenne National Grassland - three different land management jurisdictions, but all public lands. Local naturalist Jean Legge took us to the only natural waterfall in ND on Saturday – a 4 mile roundtrip hike on State Forest that defied the idea that eastern ND is flat. Fall color and a moment of silence at the falls balanced nicely with the energy and chattiness of new and old friends. Again we welcomed the younger set with special recognition of Carson – and, yes, Penny and Willow were good company, too. Sunday meant an early rise to break camp and head an hour east to the Sheyenne National Grassland where Sheyenne Ranger District guides Colleen Rufsvold and Bernadette Braun awaited. Here the 4 mile loop of the Oak Leaf Trail graced us with the more subtle rises of sand dune and oak savannah. We put our guides to work answering public lands questions befitting a conservation group and let them know that tallgrass prairie should have some ungrazed height to it. The Oak Leaf trailhead neighbors the new USFS Jorgenson Hollow campground that opens next spring (water but no electricity) and is just across the road from the 5,400-acre non-motorized parcel that is part of BCA’s Prairie Legacy Wilderness proposal.

A morning does not go by but that we check the ND O&G page for Applications to Drill (APDs) in one of the Extraordinary Places under the NDIC Areas of Interest policy. With only 10 days to submit comments, we have to be quick!  Since going into effect in May of 2014, there have been 13 APDs in 4 different locations; the first in November of 2014, the most recent in June 2015.

BCA continues to monitor monthly hearing dockets for oil and gas activities coming before the ND Oil and Gas Division of the ND Department of Mineral Resources. Cases of note are researched, a letter written to reserve our place at the table, and BCA testimony (commonly 2 to 10 per month) is provided the day of the hearing. While our focus is protecting public lands, BCA also monitors and testifies on flaring exceptions. A March 2015 precedent-setting series of XTO applications was cut
back nearly a third.  Not enough, but making it worth BCA’s time to be there. TRNP regularly testifies on cases impacting the Park. At BCA’s encouragement, ND Parks and Rec is sporadically engaged and the USFS in Bismarck has assigned a staff person.

Likewise, BCA routinely attends the oil and gas portion of the monthly ND Industrial Commission meetings. Frequently our intent is to follow up on previously docketed and heard cases, but it is also the go-to-place for riding herd on policy, new technology, pipeline and rail transport, oil and gas research & development and the frequent asides that only appear on the agenda as “other business.”

The first Tuesday of each month the Elkhorn Ranch team shares issues, updates and planning strategies focusing on the three units of TRNP and most specifically on the Elkhorn Ranch, the Elkhorn Ranchlands, and the Elkhorn Ranchlands Historic District. Nearly 20 individuals and organizations are represented with the National Park Conservation Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation serving as facilitators.  (It is of note to BCA members that former superintendent of TRNP Valerie Naylor is currently working as a consultant for NPCA.) 

Issues include oil and gas impacts, the proposed bridge crossing of the Little Missouri River in Billings County, proposed 4-laning of HWY 85 as it passes through the NU of TRNP, the newly initiated Grasslands Plan amendment for management of the Elkhorn Ranchlands, etc. In late September of 2015, just prior to an annual face-to-face meeting of the Elkhorn group, the NPCA filed a federal lawsuit against the USFS for violation of the NEPA process on the gravel pit Decision Notice signed in 2014. The Environmental Law and Policy Center, another participant in the Elkhorn group will serve as legal counsel. 

 Initiated as the Special Places working group, a number of dedicated representatives of local conservation continue to meet every couple weeks at the ND Natural Resources Trust office to share their individual work, broaden the group’s scope and understanding, and coordinate mutual efforts. We address a range of topics from wildlife fragmentation and Endangered Species to ND politics and communication strategies to flaring and spill statistics and impacts. 

The Dakota Prairie Grasslands Oil and Gas Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and a to-be-updated Reasonably Foreseeable Development Scenario are a major focus. This is one area in which we have benefited from the support and coordinated efforts of the Northern Great Plains program of the World Wildlife Fund, a national and global organization. The SEIS is one of the opportunities that has brought the attention of WWF into the state.

The original Notice of Intent on the project appeared in the Federal Register December 19, 2012. A backlog of USFS projects and staff shortages did little to encourage needed action. In November of 2014 seven signers wrote to DPG supervisor Dennis Neitzke insisting that a deep and comprehensive analysis be done, addressing the myriad of impacts – direct, indirect and cumulative – that new fracking technology and the scope, scale and speed of Bakken development place on the Little Missouri National Grassland and western ND.

With continued pressure including local meetings with Neitzke, a January 2015 regional meeting with then Regional Forester Faye Krueger in Missoula, a local meeting with DPG staff in late April, a follow-up regional letter to newly appointed Acting Regional Forester David Schmid in June of 2015 (12 signers) and local follow-up with the new DPG Deputy Supervisor John Kinney in June, a Revised Notice of Intent was published in the Federal Register on September 1, 2015. This revised NOI expanded somewhat the purpose and need for the NEPA process and strikingly provided for a public comment period that was not provided for in 2012.

It is worth noting the 12 signers of the Schmid letter (June 2015):  Mike McEnroe for the ND Chapter of the Wildlife Society, Jan Swenson for Badlands Conservation Alliance, Keith Trego for ND Natural Resources Trust, Joe Satrom for Friends of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Mindi Schmitz for Environmental Law and Policy Center, LMNG ranchers John and Jennifer Hanson, Lowell Baier for the Boone and Crockett Club and Friends of the Elkhorn Ranch, retired Dakota Prairie Grasslands supervisor Dave Pieper, Martha Kauffman for the World Wildlife Fund, Tom France for the National Wildlife Federation, Bart Melton for the National Parks Conservation Association, and former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

Scoping comments on the NOI were deemed best from individual entities and BCA submitted our letter on October 1st.  A Big Thanks to those BCA members who also submitted personal comments! In simple words, our intent is to make the USFS do its job to protect the Little Missouri National Grassland from oil and gas development.  We’ll keep pushing!

Covenant Consulting, located in Bismarck and owned by Rod Backman, is leading a project To Create Strategies for How Best to Develop Mineral Resources With Responsible Stewardship of the Badlands. Backman and his diverse team were initially approached by WWF.  Leaders and representatives from four areas – government, conservation, ranching and industry – are participating in a formal interview process and the findings will be delivered in a report expected in late November.

BCA feels especially fortunate in having had the opportunity to participate in development of this project, including recommendation and interviews of potential consultants, review of preliminary interview questions, and participation in the process as an interviewee.  Thanks, Claire and Martha, for your trust.

WWF is the lead on this project, but its potential benefits for conservation strategies in the Badlands has resulted in additional funding from several local groups, including BCA, and a sizable contribution from the USFS.

BCA continues to monitor ND Department of Trust Lands quarterly oil & gas lease auctions and we submitted recommended safeguards and stipulations for February, August, and November, 2015 sales. 

Similarly, we submit USFS comments on Dakota Prairie Grasslands projects as needed - whether well sitings near Bear Den Research Natural Area, excessive flaring in Bully field impacting the viewshed of the NU of TRNP, proposed well sitings immediately south of Lake Sakakawea, reclamation of roads no longer needed, Road System Analysis on the Little Missouri National Grassland, or a proposal to grant a Billings County easement to Mikes Creek Road near the Elkhorn Ranchlands.  Projects range from small to large and include both the Medora and McKenzie ranger districts.

Needing your and BCA’s particular attention:

The downturn in oil prices has led to concentration of drilling rigs in the hot spots of the Bakken where the prospects for production are highest.  Low prices have also led to employee layoffs and less frenzied schedules allowing for forward movement on infrastructure projects that threaten the Badlands.

It is clear that Billings County and their engineering firm Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson (KLJ) are moving on the proposed bridge crossing of the Little Missouri River. While route alternatives on the Elkhorn Ranchlands itself have been dropped from consideration, the ones remaining will still impact the Elkhorn and the Little Missouri River Valley.  It has been and is BCA’s position that the no build alternative is the only alternative.  Industrial traffic, noise, associated infrastructure, dust, impacts to night skies, wildlife fragmentation, public health and safety, and impacts to traditional agriculture and Park & Grasslands visitor experience are all concerns; not only by the proposed bridge itself, but by the connector roads associated with a crossing.

KLJ is busy scheduling agency meetings and completing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement in which they have revised the Purpose and Need to gain momentum. Public meetings for the DEIS are on a track for early spring of 2016.

A map of the current alternatives may be found here: http://www.billingscountynd. gov/klj/index.html

The posted schedule is incorrect, but watch for updates.

The Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, which would 4-lane HWY 85 from the South Dakota border to Montana (or Canada) was already an economic developers’ dream even prior to the Bakken. The boom has 4-laned Williston to Watford City and the leg south to Belfield and the border is next on the agenda.

BCA’s concern is with the stretch that threads the eye of the needle between Long X Divide and Lone Butte before crossing the Little Missouri River Valley where HWY 85 is actually within the boundaries of TRNP.

Public meetings are already scheduled and BCA needs to be there to stand for the Park and Grasslands:

  • Nov. 9 from 5 to 7:30 PM MDT, City Hall, Belfield.  Formal presentation at 5:30 MT.
  • Nov. 10 from 5 to 7:30 PM CT, City Hall, Watford City.  Formal presentation at 5:30 CT. 

Other important upcoming:

BCA is continuing to work with legal counsel Earthjustice on the section line and “roads” lawsuit filed by the four Little Missouri National Grassland counties and the state of North Dakota.

BCA will be taking the lead on educational outreach in the Red River Valley working with the ND Chapter of the Wildlife Society and the National Parks Conservation Association to overcome misconceptions that “the Badlands” are protected from oil and gas development impacts.  We spent time this summer scouting venues, exploring current attitudes and evaluating how best to proceed. Our aim is to get folks out there – both virtually and literally. BCA knows there is nothing like seeing the threats firsthand. 

Bits and pieces:

  • November 11 thru 15, 2014 BCA staff joined recently retired TRNP superintendent Valerie Naylor and four NPCA staffers as NPCA hosted a whirlwind road trip in Pennsylvania and the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River valley in order to share ND experiences of Bakken impacts on National Park Service properties through meetings with shale gas public and activists in their part of the country.  Great travels, good outreach in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Narrowsburg, NY.
  • BCA attended the ND Chapter of the Wildlife Society legislative mixer and participated in the first biennial ND Outdoors Day hosted by Ducks Unlimited in the Great Hall of the Capitol. 
  • In February BCA executive director Swenson received a Special Recognition Award at the NDCWS annual meeting; so that means all of you did, too.  The Chapter’s 2016 annual meeting is titled Beyond Better Biology and will include Conservation Storytelling workshops with communicator and author Randy Olson.  BCA has had the good fortune to meet Randy in his preliminary exploration of conservation in ND, and we look forward to the event. 
  • A six-part series on Smithsonian Channel, Boomtowners came off as more of a boisterous reality show than perhaps anticipated (or desired), but conservation did get a few serious words in edgewise thanks largely to Jim Fuglie.  Other recognizable faces included Ellen Chaffee, David Schwalbe, Mike McEnroe, Lillian Crook, and Jan Swenson.  Fulfilling many roles, but all BCA members.
  • After a raft of ND meetings in late April, Martha Kauffman and Claire Hood with the Northern Great Plains program of WWF joined BCA members for a picnic in the stone shelter at Double Ditch Indian Village overlooking the big bend of the Missouri River.  Nothing like sharing time together outdoors to reinforce our mutual goals. 
  • Several of us had conversations with University of Alaska-Fairbanks professor emeritus Jerry McBeath regarding a book he is authoring: Big Oil in the United States: Industry influence on institutions, policies and politics. Ten states, ten case studies.  He was particularly interested in the evolution of the NDIC Extraordinary Places policy in ND. Can’t wait to read THAT chapter. 
  • An email from native Minnesotan now professor of English at James Madison University in Harrisburg, VA, Paul Bogard, led to a couple intriguing hours as he passed through Bismarck seeking advice and best routes on his way to the Bakken. He is currently working on a new book tentatively titled The Ground:  The Life, Death, and Future Beneath Our Feet. An earlier book titled End of Night:  Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light is a MUST READ in flaring country. Bogard teaches creative nonfiction and environmental literature, and he has captured his topic while making reading a fascinating and educational experience. This should be a sell-out at TRNP’s Dakota Nights Festival! 
  • Thanks to Jim Fuglie for every time he plugs BCA in his Dakota Country magazine column and to Ken Rogers in the Summer 2015 issue of ND History Magazine: Speaking of State Parks Today and Tomorrow. 
  • The iconic High Country News is beginning to include western ND in its coverage of the US West — a big deal to long time readers and advocates, and BCA got a mention in HC’s April 27, 2015 issue featuring rancher/naturalist John Heiser — Lost Frontier.
  • Here’s a fun one — past BCA president and executive director Swenson attended a September 2015 roast for Fargo Forum editorial page editor Jack Zaleski in Devils Lake. Zaleski has been a friend to conservation in western ND and we took this opportunity to mingle East.
  • BCA member Sterling D. Evans, professor at the University of Oklahoma-Norman, presented at the Great Plains History Conference in Bismarck on October 1.  An avid lover of our kind of country, Evans is working on a volume that could well be The Book on Badlands Across the Great Plains: Towards an Environmental and Cultural History.  It is always a pleasure to hear what Evans is up to and to enjoy the vigor of his conversation.  Good to see you Sterling!
  • It was a chilly but glorious October 17th evening at Riverbend Overlook in the NU of TRNP where BCA met with 18 students and three instructors from St. Thomas College in St. Paul to discuss everything one might want to know about fracking, flaring, federal vs. state regulatory authority, the Bakken, Buffalo Commons, public lands, and Wilderness. What a group! They’ll be contacting their MN congressional delegation to push our ND delegation for Prairie Legacy Wilderness. “After all, we are a university,” claimed lead geology professor Dr. Melissa Lamb.

    Despite these students being beyond the formal measure of childhood, one couldn’t help but think of the Richard Louv quote: "Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart."

    It was lovely to be with these people of heart.

    As it is with BCA.

Download the PDF of Wild Badlands #38.