BCA Accomplishments for 2017

Before we address the traditional list of BCA actions, events and accomplishments for 2017, I’d like to offer my thoughts as your executive director.

This year BCA has surpassed a major hurdle.  We as an organization have stepped beyond simple identity as one more environmental group and have risen to the status of a go-to source for real information and coordinated institutional memory.  Our focus is succinct, and the press has taken notice.

Most proudly perhaps is our reputation for persistence and integrity.  When BCA speaks, people listen; even those who disagree with us.  BCA more and more has the ability to throw those on the other side of our issues off-track with the breadth of our combined knowledge and our ability for fact finding.  At the same time, we hold tight to our insistence and willingness for discourse.  That is a good thing for conservation in North Dakota.

When we look back at 2017, we can identify areas of forward movement in the education of citizenry and government entities and even industry.  Notable are the times that we have delayed or stopped knee jerk actions that threaten our natural resources and the landscape it is our mission to protect.  That pause for consideration opens a door to conversation, to alternative-seeking, to finding solutions.

Thank you to the faithful BCA community for your actions and your support.  Together, ever onward.

For the third year running BCA held its 2016 Annual Meeting at the Discovery Center inside the Dakota Zoo. The event took place on the afternoon of Sunday, October 23nd and featured the 15 minute outreach documentary Keeping All the Pieces.  Conversation after was facilitated by BCA members Jan Swenson and Mike McEnroe, here Mike representing the ND Wildlife Federation.

An ongoing concern for the organization in finding stable funding was met with offers to assist in grant research from Ellen Chaffee and Denise Steinbach. Thanks you two!

Special thanks to Lynn & Greg, Carl & Bev, Bonnie, and Corinne for help with set-up and tear-down. You play a major role in making for a successful and enjoyable gathering.

Special thanks to Tama Smith of Prairie Fire Pottery whose generous yearly donation to our door prizes of her “handcrafted beauty” has become the wait for item!

Held this year the weekend of April 8 and 9, the annual BCA Board Retreat took place at the Black Leg Ranch south of McKenzie, ND.  Owned and operated by the family of Jerry and Renae Doane, the award winning ranch is known for its stewardship and hospitality.  BCA might add sandhill crane migration corridor to that list of amenities.

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.  Funding, membership building, and communications rose to the top of the list.  BCA member Jim Fuglie attended as an invited guest with expertise in these areas.

Officers were elected: Craig Kilber, president; Christine Hogan, vice president; Rich Brauhn, secretary and Lynn Morgenson, treasurer.  Committee assignments were made: Education, Tama Smith as chair; Funding and Development, Connie Triplett 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 Board managed organizational issues throughout the year via email and phone as well as touching base at our group outings.

We offer special recognition and appreciation to board member and secretary Rich Brauhn for his years long stint as editor-in-chief of our newsletter Wild Badlands, published regularly in spring and fall. Thanks, too, Rich, for the detailed and articulate minutes you have provided the organization - keeping membership up to speed and archiving our intents and actions.

Thanks to Graham Swenson for managing BCA’s webpage and keeping it up to date: a behind the scenes job that dramatically shapes the out-front public image of BCA. Thanks to Lillian Crook and Craig Kilber for being in charge of BCA on Twitter, a new addition in 2017. Friends will continue to find us on Facebook.

For a decade BCA depended on the generous support of The Wilderness Society and then The Tortuga Foundation.  Restructuring of one and then the other have put those sources out of our reach.  We have found that ND is not considered part of the West by many larger foundations and that conservation funding sources in our area are limited.

Even with the additional expert help we got this year from experienced volunteers, the above remains our position.  Most of our current funding comes directly from membership.  Watch for your renewal letter during the Thanksgiving season and give generously.  You make all the difference in the world!

If we don’t find that magic key, BCA’s sustainability is at risk.  If YOU, as a BCA member or friend, know of organizations or philanthropic individuals who may be willing to assist in funding BCA’s work without limiting our integrity or our mission, please contact BCA staff or a member of the Board of Directors.

Thanks to Tom Dahle, Mike McEnroe and Buel Sonderland for offering creative ideas.  We’ll be looking into your suggestions, so expect a call.

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:

Southern Badlands, Tracy Mountain and Ponderosa Pines — Sat. and Sun., June 23 and 24, 2017

We did a most excellent job this year in combining issue education with good clean BCA fun. BCA pretty well filled the USFS Burning Coal Vein Campground as our headquarters for a two day event.

Saturday morning put us in caravan to investigate old and proposed (Southwestern Production Corp.) oil development in the Tracy Mountain area, including immediately adjacent to Kendley Plateau Suitable for Wilderness. We stopped at the site of the 1998 Mineral Exchange dedication to remind ourselves that vigilance is the name of the conservation game and revisited the many years earlier BCA outing destination of Loey Butte – a magical spot with many sweet memories. While a long day headed some folks back to camp or the river, die-hards made a stop at Huffelump Butte on the southern end of Kendley. With a view from the top like you would not believe, we thought we’d permanently lost Lynn and Greg to wanderlust, and geologist Jerry once again marveled at the prevalence of shocked quartz and taught the rest of us ancient earth history.

Whether as one last hurrah before bed or an early next morning explore, most made it to Lillian’s Pinnacle off Juniper Spur and its lovely slant Badlands light.

We must have worked it right as chilly Saturday allowed for periods of warm up as we popped in and out of vehicles, while the much warmer Sunday led us to intermittently shaded shelter amongst the Ponderosa Pines. Thanks to Jim for his recitation on the historic Dakota Forest.

BCA is uniquely blessed by its combination of members that include naturalists, birders, paleontologists, geologists, horticulturists, historians – both amateur and professional – who bring rare experience to our outings. Thanks go to Laura for enthusing over just that and making the rest of us take a moment to appreciate our good company.

Short Ranch, East River Road and Magpie Fire — Saturday and Sunday, July 29 and 30, 2017

While campers honed in on Cottonwood Campground in the South Unit of TRNP, attendees of BCA’s hot weather July weekend in the Badlands found a variety of places to call home for the weekend.

Saturday morning found us stopping at Camel Hump Lake just long enough to pick up Short Family member Jeb Williams and to lose BCA president Craig to a flat tire and malfunctioning car window.  His phone text to the group:  “I’m good.  Keep going.”  What a guy!

Covering terrain new to many, the trip to the Short Ranch started things out right.  Our stop to visit about Billings County’s proposed bridge crossing of the Little Missouri River at the foot of the last rise before the historic ranch itself made our easy climb to the panoramic view of the expansive river bottoms all the more compelling.  Ranch manager Jay Obrigewitch joined us for the conversation, as did Valerie Naylor representing the National Parks Conservation Association and Superintendent Wendy Ross of TRNP.

At temperatures approaching the century mark, we sheltered under an ash canopy for picnic lunch and further discussion.  The hardiest of souls soon headed cross field to get a closer look at the proposed bridge location and found a river much impacted by this summer’s drought.  Surprise to us all, a darkening sky brought lightening and rain drops, enough to cool, but not to drench.

As planned, we scattered late afternoon: some for home (where their travels ran into wind, hail and blinding rain), a foursome north to the Elkhorn Ranch, and others to Twin Buttes Suitable for Wilderness - where we’d missed the rain but evidenced by acutely enhanced colors and forms.  An explore in Twin Buttes took us to interior spots none had been before and discovery of an awesome petrified log.  Definitely worth a second visit with a larger band of BCA friends.

All agreed that a little guilt-free “spoiling” was in order after a hot day of Grassland adventure, and we partied up around a table in town for dinner.

Sunday brought no promise of cooler temperatures but we headed north on East River Road with a pause at the eastern end of the proposed Billings County bridge crossing near Mikes Creek Road.  We delighted in an early lunch under the shade of a friendly rancher’s veranda.  Jay Clemens and his manager were unable to join us, but we appreciated their hospitality nonetheless.

An NP Resources rig was drilling just beyond Jay’s property line using his ranch road as access.  It had been visible from quite a distance, including from the Short Ranch the day before.  Equally disconcerting was the field of stakes demarcating Billings County’s plan to mine gravel on his upland.  One has to wonder at Clemen’s persistence in trying to manage impacts. 

Then we were off to the trailhead near Magpie Camp and a meeting with USFS personnel to tour and learn about pros and cons of the recent 5400-acre wildfire that had been exacerbated by 2017 drought conditions.   Thanks go to assistant fire manager Oscar Knutson and communication specialist Treva Slaughter for their generous time on a Sunday afternoon!   An inch of rain that had helped bring the fire under control had also prompted growth of new bright-green grass across a flat of scorched black sagebrush.

TR Symposium at DSU & Dakota Night Festival — Thurs. eve thru Sun., Sept. 14 -17, 2017

BCA can claim neither of these marvelous events as our own, but we strongly encourage members to attend! This year especially, they presented a pretty refreshing four days for those interested in TR: the Naturalist in the Arena and celestial wonders in TRNP.

Despite the coldish and nearly continual rainfall (replete with socked in cloud cover) that started with commencement of the symposium and held tight until Sunday morning,  the 2017 TR Symposium seemed warmer than most and leaned away from the sometimes dry academics of historical presentation.  A BCA-er might merit that to the subject matter and those who would pursue it!

Speakers ranged from Darrin Lunde, Supervisory Museum Specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to the delightful non-academic Barb Rosenstock, writer of historical books for children to the insightful Char Miller and his knowledge of the relationship of TR and Gifford Pinchot to BCA’s own Duane Jundt on Roosevelt’s Love Affair with Birds and naturalist Melanie Choukas-Bradley who waxed eloquent on DC’s Rock Creek Park and Theodore Roosevelt Island in a manner empathetic to anything a BCA-er might say about the Elkhorn Ranch.  Not to take a backseat to anyone, ND’s own Clay Jenkinson equaled or out shone all in his Saturday morning presentation, Intersecting Genius, 1886:  W’m Hornaday, TR and the Saving of the Buffalo.

Friday evening festivities meant for a campfire at the proposed Elkhorn Ranch replica site became an indoor activity with amphitheater seating and a big-screen digital blaze.  Lighthearted and cozy, it was just the right ambiance for performances by cowboy poet Jonathan Odermann and musicians Jessie and Gene Veeder.

The symposium’s intended trip to the Southern Badlands was not possible on rain-soaked scoria roads, but attendees happily climbed into buses for a scenic loop tour of the South Unit of TRNP.  Perhaps the only rainy days grievance, fogged-up windows darkly tinted for highway travel did not bode well for sightseeing.  As outdoors folks know, the weather doesn’t really matter once you are out in it, but riders were not allowed such freedom til more than three-quarters of the way round.  Exuberance and awe expressed at the single Wind Canyon stop means next time we’ll holler for more!

No field of telescopes at Peaceful Valley Ranch until the skies cleared on Sunday, but great fun was had by all ages making their own model telescopes and launching rockets in Chimney Park.  Invited NASA ambassadors came inside from the chill for their presentations on the Cassini Mission Crash into Saturn and this summer’s total solar eclipse.  Dickinson State University’s Dr. Paul Barnhart taught us more about the wealth and wonder of bats in TRNP than the average visitor would think possible.

TRNP staff were stars in their role as hosts and educators.  BCA members chatted and compared notes throughout the four days’ myriad events and activities.  And, as is so remarkable when like-minded folks mingle, we smiled.  Big smiles.

While oil and gas development in western North Dakota has slowed considerably over the last years, related issues continue to be at the top of BCA’s watch list.  The core area for ongoing development includes TRNP and the Little Missouri National Grassland north of Interstate 94.  Infrastructure development including pipelines, the proposed Meridian refinery, Billings County’s Little Missouri River bridge crossing and expansion of HWY 85 to a four-lane divided highway are not going away.  Recent drilling activity in the Little Missouri River valley between just north of the Elkhorn Ranch and the South Unit of TRNP is on an upswing. Newly proposed awakening and expanded development of older fields south of the Interstate threatens. Following  a legislative amendment to the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act, the State Water Commission is approving industrial withdrawal of water from our little river for fracking operations.  It is BCA’s position that the slowdown offers opportunity for North Dakota to upgrade its regulatory, inspection and enforcement capabilities and finally do some comprehensive planning

BCA continues to monitor monthly hearing dockets for oil and gas activities before the ND Oil and Gas Division of the ND Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).  Cases of note are researched, a letter written to reserve our place at the table, and BCA testimony is provided the day of the hearing.  While numbers of cases have decreased, monthly vigilance is still required.

Such vigilance is how we know that a single operator NP Resources has approved orders for more than 90 wells impacting the Little Missouri.  The company currently has three temporary water permits and is actively drilling.  They are also expanding activity in the Whisky Joe field to the immediate northeast of the South Unit.

BCA and Theodore Roosevelt National Park remain the two consistent entities appearing at monthly hearings.

We continue to monitor the O&G Division webpage for Areas of Interest (Special Places) applications on a daily basis. In 2017 four series of wells came up for comment in three different locations: three of them on the shores of Lake Sakakawea and another close to the Elkhorn. BCA comments on all AOI public land applications no matter where their location with an intent to keep the door open for strengthening this policy. We communicate with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, the original champion of a stronger version of this policy, as circumstance or concern call.

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, spills and flaring, oil and gas research & development, ND legal pursuits and the frequent asides that only appear on the agenda as “other business.”  It is here that we recently learned volumes of water for fracking purposes are on the rise. Four million gallons per well fracked has gone to 8 million with 20 million reported as the new high. The resulting contaminated water is routinely injected deep underground and irretrievably lost.  For comparison, ND’s largest city of Fargo treats for municipal use 30 million gallons per day with expanding capacities to 40 million.

We are also hearing that investment in midstream gas gathering infrastructure is not meeting increasing production of natural gas.  Monitoring for increased flaring will be necessary.

The first Tuesday of each month the Elkhorn Ranch Coalition shares issues, updates and planning strategies focusing on the Elkhorn Ranch, the Elkhorn Ranchlands, and the Elkhorn Ranchlands Historic District.  Nearly 20 individuals and organizations are represented.

Our annual face-to-face meeting will take place in Bismarck on October 25, 2017.  A representative of the Short Family (location of the preferred alternative for Billings County’s proposed Little Missouri bridge crossing) and Elkhorn advocate Jay Clemens will be joining us.

Initiated as the Special Places working group and currently known as the Energy Group, 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. Routinely joining us by phone are representatives from national organizations including the World Wildlife Fund, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the National Park Conservation Association. Representatives from the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, TRNP, USFWS and ND Game and Fish are frequent joiners. We address a range of topics from habitat fragmentation and proposed infrastructure projects to policy and communication strategies.

BCA continues to participate in the Northern Plains Conservation Network, a regional collaboration of more than 25 non-profit and tribal organizations working together to conserve and restore ecological processes of the Northern Great Plains.

BCA continues to monitor issues and projects on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, particularly the southern Medora Ranger District and the northern McKenzie Ranger District on the Little Missouri.

Of particular note is a proposed project by Southwestern Production Corporation (SWP) to re-work existing (mostly temporarily abandoned) wells in the Tracy Mountain area on private and federal lands. SWP’s plan includes two new well pads on a USFS section immediately adjacent to Kendley Plateau Suitable for Wilderness and sited on erodible land immediately above Dantz Creek. After an onsite visit and calls with SWP and the Medora Ranger District, BCA submitted comments. The EA and Draft Decision just arrived in our mailbox and after careful review we will be deciding if BCA needs to appeal.

The Dakota Prairie Grasslands Oil and Gas Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and an updated Reasonably Foreseeable Development Scenario remain among our priorities.  Recently the USFS transferred funding for the Elkhorn Ranchlands management plan amendment to the O&G SEIS - not an either/or decision we can be happy with, but not unexpected given USFS financial constraints.

Deputy Supervisor John Kinney has shared the formal project timeline, which extends over the next 18 months.  BCA would expect that timeline is ambitious.  We will keep you posted on opportunities for public comment.

The Covenant Consulting Group (CCG) report released in mid-August of 2016 and titled Stakeholder Assessment of the North Dakota Badlands and Little Missouri River Valley was followed by establishment of a Badlands Advisory Group (BAG) consisting of 5 volunteers, all from western North Dakota, who represent each of the original stakeholder groups.  In May of 2017, BAG released an Action Plan prioritizing issues and offering beginning direction for addressing them.  There are admittedly holes and weaknesses in the plan, largely due to the aim for group consensus, but their priority issues are right on.  The BAG Action Plan and original analysis may be found at http://www.ndstakeholders.org/.  

World Wildlife Fund was the initial lead on this project with additional support from the USFS, ND Natural Resources Trust, Badlands Conservation Alliance, ND Wildlife Federation and Logging Camp Ranch.  These parties continue to work with project consultant Rod Backman of Covenant Consulting and attended by invitation a BAG meeting in June of 2017 that also included ND Petroleum Council president Ron Ness and ND Oil & Gas director Lynn Helms.  Lt. Governor Sanford was in attendance for much of the discussion and showed support for the work.  Additional smaller meetings have been held with various BAG members and the Governor’s staff.

Most recently, at the request of then policy advisor Cassandra Torstenson, a letter outlining what conservation considers holes in the Action Plan has been crafted and will be delivered to the Lt. Governor.  A meeting with Governor Burgum himself is anticipated in the near future.

With “pilot projects” being one of the action steps supported by the BAG, conservation entities have been advocating for a comprehensive landscape scale planning project in the Little Missouri River Valley to reduce impacts.

A major win for conservationists and lovers of Wilderness in North Dakota, US District Court Judge Daniel L. Hovland on July 26, 2017 dismissed the section line lawsuit brought by the state of North Dakota and four western Little Missouri National Grassland counties – Billings, McKenzie, Golden Valley and Slope.  Hovland ruled that the state and counties had waited too long to bring their claims against the federal government and had exceeded the statute of limitations.

The state and counties’ associated “individual roads claim” remains undecided.  BCA’s legal counsel Earthjustice deems this is likely to take some time.

Appeal of the section line lawsuit may become a possibility after the “individual roads claim” is decided, but for now the Big One is ours.  Congratulations all!

Meridian Energy Group, Inc. of California continues to seek permitting for construction of a greenfield 55,000 barrel per day crude oil refinery within 3 miles of the southeast corner of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a Class 1 air quality property. 

Meridian has gained a reputation that extends to newspaper editorial boards for being less than genuine in its sharing of information and actual intent.  Discrepancies in their reported water use and daily refining capacity vary with who they are speaking to – investors or state agencies, Health Department or Public Service Commission, local supporters or concerned citizens.

BCA has submitted three separate protest letters to the State Water Commission during the permitting process.  While the SWC has minimally reduced the allotment quantity, the permit itself remains under review and a hearing is expected.

The Department of Health has repeatedly called for additional information from the company to illustrate and satisfy air quality requirements for the Synthetic Minor Source application Meridian claims to meet.  The National Parks Conservation Association has been a great friend to local concerns, including a recently published study that states the proposed refinery is a Major Source of contaminants.  The DOH appears to be vigilant in its responsibilities.  Opportunities to comment will arise as the process continues.

BCA made initial contact with the Public Service Commission in February of 2017 to protest Meridian’s plans to build a refinery well over the capacity which requires siting review by that state agency.  Meridian is claiming a “two-stage” construction plan makes them exempt from review.  While it is clear that the PSC wants Meridian to bring the entire project before the Commission and is holding face-to-face meetings, no action has been finalized.

We stand with the growing number of advocates to stop a refinery in this location.

Equally important, we continue to focus attention on the North Unit of TRNP, as well as the roadless areas of Lone Butte and Long X Divide next to the North Unit, as it relates to proposed expansion of HWY 85 to a four-lane divided highway from Watford City to Interstate 94 at Belfield.  Our concern is with the seven mile corridor through the Little Missouri River Valley.

The ND DOT and its consulting engineers KLJ continue to move forward with the NEPA process.  Due to the controversy surrounding the project, a stakeholders group was formed, of which BCA is a participating member.  The initial meeting was held in February of 2017 in Fairfield with a second slated for October 30th.  Release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is upcoming, possibly within the next couple months.

BCA also met jointly with KLJ and DOT project manager Matt Linneman to offer an alternative running east of the Park and downgrading the existing HWY 85 corridor to a two lane 25 mph access road to lessen Park impacts.  Linneman agreed that the alternative merited consideration, however, KLJ analysis looked only at what BCA might agree are the negatives without weighing the positive for the Park that would result.

No alternative includes improvement of the existing roadway and restructuring of safety precautions through the river valley without expansion to a full four-lane divided highway. We continue to oppose DOT’s shallow alternatives and the lack of consideration for a full range of alternatives as required by NEPA.

In early November 2017, with four presentations scheduled in Valley City, BCA and the ND Wildlife Federation will complete their round of Red River Valley outreach focused on our Keeping All the Pieces campaign, and the 15 minute documentary will be released for public dissemination.  We have produced materials for a Keeping All the Pieces webpage to be housed on BCA’s website that range from how to educate oneself and become a participating member of the vocal public to self-guided tours of oil and gas impacts in the Badlands.  Ongoing updates on issues, additional tour routes, photo essays and short video clips are intended to keep both BCA members and others engaged in being a voice for Wild North Dakota.

Thanks to Sarah Olimb of the World Wildlife Fund for her expertise in map making and publishing!

In the last 12 months presenters Mike McEnroe and Jan Swenson have presented and led an open-ended conversation with over a dozen audiences ranging from Breakfast Clubs and Lions members to university classrooms, the Rural Leadership ND Program and the ND Action Group.

At the tail end of the 2017 Legislative session an amendment to the 1975 Little Missouri State Scenic  River Act was slipped into the State Water Commission’s appropriation bill adding three nasty little words – “or temporary use.”  Prior to that amendment signed into law by Governor Burgum on May 2nd it was illegal to withdraw water from the Little Missouri River except for agricultural or recreational purposes.  Said temporary use means industrial withdrawal for fracking.

The State Water Commission had been approving industrial water permits for years, claiming they had “forgotten” about the LMSSRA.  With the coming of the Bakken the number and size of those applications had been growing and they wanted to make it legal.

Governor Burgum was barraged with calls and letters asking him to use his veto to strike those words, but he did not: instead, calling for a SWC report on the quantity of water being used for such purposes, a moratorium on withdrawals upstream of the Long X Bridge (North Unit of TRNP south to the South Dakota border) and reinstatement of the Little Missouri State Scenic River Commission (LMSSRC) that had not met for a decade. 

The State Water Commission itself - made up of 7 citizen commissioners, the Department of Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and chaired by the Governor - met on June 22.  SWC engineer Jon Patch presented the department’s report, with policy to continue industrial water withdrawals in hand and ready to be signed.  Without review of either the report and/or any consideration of the larger questions, SW Commissioners approved the staff policy, which was deemed “interim” til such time that the new LMSSRC offered a recommendation.  The Governor’s moratorium south of Long X Divide Bridge was dropped from the interim policy.

The newly reinstated LMSSRC met first on August 9th in Dickinson.  Few if any actions were taken due to the newness of their position, but the meeting was thoughtful and open to public comments.  The Chief Engineer for the SWC retained his role as acting chair.

The second meeting of the LMSSRC was held on the 11th of October.  Among the action items on the agenda were such things as Approval of Agenda, Approval of Meeting Minutes, Election of Officers and #9 Temporary Water Permit Interim Policy.  SWC staff again came with letter in hand drafted in the name of the LMSSRC to approve the SWC’s policy.  All they had to do was sign.  They did not.

What was to have been a two hour meeting lasted four, with most of it focused on the interim policy.  Kudos to the LMSSRC for allowing the interested public in the room, on all sides of the issue, to freely identify concerns and ask questions.  Kudos also to the Commission for not buckling to the SWC staff who so clearly wanted an OK and free rein at granting applications.

BCA can be proud that we had a lot to do with not rushing this decision, with asking the right questions, legitimate questions.  The existing interim policy will remain in place until such time the LMSSRC decides to return to that question, but they seem in no hurry.  Additionally, group consent recognized the need to identify a list of questions and issues requiring further analysis.

There is potential for the LMSSRC to do good work.  We hope our continuing participation will be an assist in doing just that.

Bits and pieces:

  • BCA attended the November 15, 2017 Billings County Commission hearing on the proposed 114-turbine Charlie Creek Wind Farm extending south of the intersection of HWYS 85 and 200.  Local opposition won the day and the project was denied. Arguments might have been those of conservation at the Davis refinery hearings.  Interesting.  Turbines would have been visible at-a-distance from both the North and South Units
  • Thank you to Sabry Hanna, the oil and gas expert at the Dakota Prairie Grasslands office in Bismarck for showing BCA the in and outs of USFS oil and gas siting protocol on the Little Missouri.  Articulation of the process is much appreciated.
  • BCA executive director Jan Swenson received the prestigious North Dakota Award at the February 2017 Annual Conference of The ND Chapter of the Wildlife Society.  The Society is the organization of North Dakota’s natural resource professionals and the award is high recognition of BCA’s work.
  • BCA participated in the 2nd annual Legislative Outdoors Day at the state capitol.  Our video of Keeping All the Pieces and BCA activities caught the eye of many, including one younger participant who returned multiple times to watch the prairie dogs on screen.  Gotta love it! Thanks to Lillian, Corinne and Jim for being there!
  • In July of 2017, BCA toured the Badlands – both its natural wonders and oil & gas impacts – with documentarian Alan Thompson and crew.  Thompson is contracted with Tzu Chu USA.
  • In late September a small cadre from the Energy Group invited Governor Burgum’s new ND Parks and Rec director Melissa Baker to a working lunch.  It was an introductory sort of meeting, but an exchange that would include the Little Missouri State Scenic River Commission - of which the P&R director is the singular natural resource representative.

The sandwiches were great – thank you, ND NRT – and the discussion open.  Baker said she had spent much of her first five months restructuring the department and getting things in shape, but was now ready to “expand her role.”  Her position on the LMSSRC was obviously one she looked forward to, but beyond that Baker wasn’t too specific.  We liked her.

Her performance at the most recent LMSSRC meeting lets us like her more.  She is a steady hand.

  • And, in closing.  We may have known Emily Guerin as North Dakota’s first Inside Energy reporter based out of Prairie Public Broadcasting’s office in Bismarck, but on Sunday, August 3, 2017, BCA had the pleasure of spending time with her as a freelance writer for High County News.  (Emily currently lives and reports out of Los Angeles, CA.)

Recent media coverage and consternation over BLM’s latest nomination for lease sale at the northern boundary of the North Unit of TRNP led us to travel one of the FS’s least maintained two track roads to that very location - to see what we might see.

What we found was pretty astonishing.  For one, we were not the only ones there: two men and two children beat us to this isolated spot on what was a very hot, blowy afternoon.  As my Subie climbed precariously to the final summit, barely finding room to squeeze in next to the giant pickup trucks (one shiny black and the other fire-engine red), we realized the group was target practicing, with a hand gun in the palm of the smallest child.  And, I do mean small.  Maybe six.  Maybe.

Well, they were crazy nice, loved the Badlands, and worked in the Patch.  Seems Emily was a little surprised that I would want to make friends – but hey, we don’t know where our allies may come from.

The view south into the Park was gorgeous, stunning.  And we realized we were looking down the flat valley to the Caprock Coulee trailhead where we could see cars on the scenic road.  A couple ATV trails were readily visible if we turned to the north, which our new friends described as folks just having fun.

Later that evening I was on my own checking out the extent of industrial lights visible from the Bentonite and Man & Grass overlooks within the Park, and I regretted that I could not precisely identify which butte top we had perched on.  It did become clear that any oil well out there would have to be hidden pretty darn well to avoid one more eyesore visible from the Park scenic road.

Don’t ask me about the lights.  Unless you really want to know.

Again, ever onward…