In the Badlands of North Dakota, on the banks of the bubbling Little Missouri River, the fabled former ranch of Teddy Roosevelt has become a battlefield in the fight between industry and the conservationists who view the 26th president as their patron saint.
Hunters and environmentalists fear the 218-acre Elkhorn Ranch, which once belonged to the man whose passion for conservation changed the nation and helped land his face on nearby Mount Rushmore, could be forever marred by a mining project now under way on adjacent land. The opponents appear to be out of options, but still hope the rugged land that helped shape TR’s wilderness affection can be spared.
“He spent considerable time among the cowboys and ranchers and others in the West, and that gave him an entirely different perspective on what America is all about,” Roosevelt’s great-grandson Tweed Roosevelt told FoxNews.com. “It knocked out of him the East Coast snobbery and elitism approach that he had as a young man and turned him into a much more human person.”
The controversial gravel mining project could eventually span hundreds, if not thousands of acres, bordering the ranch, which became a western refuge for the bespectacled man who grew from sickly child to Harvard-educated war hero and symbol for American machismo.
The U.S. Forest Service purchased 4,400 acres, including the ranch, in 2007 as part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The $5 million acquisition was aided by the Boone and Crockett Club, the venerable conservation organization founded by Roosevelt in 1887.
However, the government did not secure the mineral rights for the property, the majority of which were subsequently acquired by the Montana-based Elkhorn Minerals.
While the site where Roosevelt’s riverbank log cabin once stood lies within Theodore Roosevelt National Park and can’t be developed, the surrounding lands, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, are not similarly protected.
Roger Lothspeich, owner of Elkhorn Minerals, told FoxNews.com that despite opposition, he has no plans to stop the mining project, which began last month.
“There is a lot of gravel to mine,” he said. “I will keep on mining year after year, for years to come, and will not stop until I get all the gravel. That’s the type of individual I am. I just don’t give up.”
Lothspeich said he was willing to exchange land with the Forest
Service if there was a comparable place to mine nearby, but Forest Service officials said in a statement “a reasonable option could not be found.”
Environmentalists and historians still hold out hope the project can be halted by the courts. The National Parks Conservation Association, represented by the Chicago-based public interest law firm, Environmental Law and Policy Center, took its case to federal court in Washington, D.C., on Friday seeking a preliminary injunction stopping the U.S. Forest Service from allowing the mining project to go forward.
The Center argued that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act in its approval of the environmental assessment. The judge’s ruling is pending.