North Dakota

Press Release: New York Times Names Theodore Roosevelt National Park a 2016 Top Travel Destination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New York Times Names Theodore Roosevelt National Park a 2016 Top Travel Destination

ELPC Asserts Conservation Must be Priority for Park and Elkhorn Ranch Within

Jamestown, N.D. – The New York Times’ travel editors listed Theodore Roosevelt National Park near the top of its coveted annual list of the best places to visit on the planet in 2016. The park includes Elkhorn Ranch, which President Theodore Roosevelt built in the 1880s and is known as the “cradle of conservation” where he was inspired to establish many national parks, forests and monuments that became the foundation for the National Park Service.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center is working to protect Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s scenic view and the historic Elkhorn Ranch from new gravel mines and oil well flaring that harms the natural landscape,” says Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based non-profit. “The New York Times put Theodore Roosevelt National Park around the top of its must-visit travel list because it’s a special place that should be preserved for the 600,000 annual visitors to experience the beauty and quiet of this iconic American landscape.”

ELPC sued the U.S. Forest Service last fall in federal court on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association for violating the National Environmental Policy Act when it approved a gravel mine within view of Elkhorn Ranch. The gravel pit owner has already begun digging at the site, creating noise and dust, even though the lawsuit is ongoing.

Meanwhile, the development of the Bakken oil fields near the park has led to the wasteful venting and flaring of natural gas in the area. While many have noted the lightening of the park’s night sky due to flaring, the proximity of the pollution coming from the flares also poses threats to the park’s signature plants and animals.

“The flaring and venting of natural gas resources takes needed tax revenue away from North Dakota’s coffers,” said Mindi Schmitz, government relation specialist with ELPC’s North Dakota office. “But flaring and venting in the backyard of Teddy Roosevelt National Park does even more damage — it threatens the experiences highlighted by the New York Times in naming the park one of the world’s must-see destinations.”

Soon the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is expected to release standards for the venting and flaring of natural gas on public lands. Strong standards could help boost North Dakota’s natural resource revenues while also offering additional protection for the park.

The National Park Service turns 100 this year.  In recent years, Elkhorn Ranch was named one of the 11 most endangered historic places in America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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ELPC’s Efforts to Stop Mining at Teddy Roosevelt’s Historic Ranch Featured in the Daily Mail

Environmentalists are on a mission to stop a gravel mining project adjacent to Teddy Roosevelt’s historic Elkhorn Ranch in the Badlands of North Dakota from advancing any further.

Roger Lothspeich, of Miles City, Montana, and his fiancee, Peggy Braunberger, have spent more than six years proving they own the right to remove gravel and other surface minerals at the 5,200-acre ranch and the businessman began mining last month.

The National Parks Conservation Association took its case to federal court in Washington, D.C., on Friday seeking a motion to stop the U.S. Forest Service from allowing the mining project to continue.

Roosevelt, who was president from 1901 to 1909, set aside millions of acres for national forests and wildlife refuges during his administration. He spent more than three years in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880s.

The Forest Service purchased the ranch next to Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch site in 2007 from the Eberts family. It cost $5.3 million, with $4.8 million coming from the federal government and $500,000 from conservation groups.

The Eberts family had bought the ranch where Roosevelt ran his cattle and half the mineral rights from the Connell family in 1993 for $800,000.

Lothspeich, who grew up near the ranch, bought the other half of the mineral rights from the Connells at an undisclosed price, knowing the government had not obtained them in the Eberts deal.

Lothspeich signed an agreement with the Forest Service more than two years ago to work out an exchange for other federal land or mineral rights at a different location.

But he said the government was too slow in responding, and he decided to mine gravel at the site instead to take advantage of the growing need for roads and other projects in North Dakota’s booming oil patch.

‘There is a big demand for gravel, no question,’ he said.

Lothspeich said he plans to start gravel operations in the spring with about a dozen workers.

The Forest Service last January said it found no significant impact with the project, and last month it gave final approval for the plan and a 4-mile road to the mine. Lothspeich had crews digging at the site a day later.

‘He’s got a valid set of permits, and he went through all the steps,’ said Shannon Boehm, a Forest Service district ranger in nearby Dickinson said last month.

‘We’re holding him to the tenets of the approved operating plan.’

Conversationalists are arguing that the Forest Service violated the National Policy Act in approving the environmental assessment, according to Fox News.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center first filed the lawsuit in September. They want a more thorough environmental analysis of how the gravel pit affects the historic ranch.

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ELPC’s Work to Stop Mining at Elkhorn Ranch Highlighted in Fox News

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.

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Star Tribune: Gravel Mining Begins Near Elkhorn Ranch as ELPC Works to Put on the Brakes

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Montana businessman began mining gravel Tuesday near President Theodore Roosevelt’s historic western North Dakota ranch, after an eight-year battle with U.S. regulators and amid an ongoing legal dispute with environmentalists.

“We’re finally good to go,” Roger Lothspeich told The Associated Press. “I am very happy and very, very pleased.”

The 25-acre mine site is about a mile from Roosevelt’s historic ranch cabin, which environmentalists have called “the cradle of conservation.”

The mine is being dug in a 5,201-acre ranch owned by the U.S. Forest Service that is next to Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch site. Although the Forest Service owns the land, Lothspeich of Miles City, Montana, owns the mineral rights.

Lothspeich had been in a dispute with the Forest Service since shortly after Congress approved the government’s purchase in 2007 of the ranch in a deal worth about $5.3 million. More than 50 wildlife and conservation groups, including the Boone and Crockett Club started by Roosevelt himself, pressed Congress to approve the purchase.

Lothspeich spent years proving he owned the mineral rights and offered to sell them back to the government or to environmental groups that opposed his project. Lothspeich signed an agreement with the Forest Service three years ago to work out an exchange for other federal land or mineral rights at a different location. But he said the government was too slow in responding, and he decided to mine gravel at the site instead to take advantage of a growing need for roads and other projects in North Dakota’s oil patch.

The Forest Service in January said it found no significant impact with the project, and on Monday it gave final approval for the plan and a 4-mile road to the mine. Lothspeich had crews digging at the site a day later.

“He’s got a valid set of permits, and he went through all the steps,” said Shannon Boehm, a Forest Service district ranger in nearby Dickinson. “We’re holding him to the tenets of the approved operating plan.”

The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center in September filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Washington, D.C.-based National Parks Conservation Association challenging the Forest Service’s decision to approve the project, and wants a more thorough environmental analysis of how the gravel pit affects the historic ranch. The lawsuit is pending in federal court.

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Howard Joins WBEZ’s Worldview to Discuss Paris Climate Agreement

Monday afternoon, Howard Learner joined Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s global affairs program Worldview to discuss what the COP21 agreement reached in Paris means to efforts to address climate change. You can listen to the broadcast below.

The Dickinson Press: Letter: Forest Service should take another look at gravel pit

As the president of the board of directors of Friends of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and a frequent visitor to the park, I am pleased that there are organizations willing to stand up for our national treasure. A recent article in The Dickinson Press stated that the National Parks Conservation Association, with the Environmental Law and Policy Center as attorneys, is suing the U.S. Forest Service over a permit to mine gravel on the Eberts Ranch.

The development of a large gravel pit adjacent to the Elkhorn Ranch, which is part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, will no doubt create more noise, more roads and more disruption in the area. Those activities will surely destroy the beauty and solitude that North Dakotans and visitors from all over the country have a right to enjoy for decades to come.

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Public News Service: Gravel Pit Near Roosevelt National Park Draws Lawsuit

BISMARCK, N.D. – The U.S. Forest Service faces a federal lawsuit for its approval of a large, new gravel pit on the outskirts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The suit comes from the National Parks Conservation Association, represented by the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Staff attorney Jennifer Cassel says there was not a strong enough environmental review with the approval, a violation the National Environmental Policy Act.

“In this case we’re talking about a nearly 25-acre gravel pit within view of a very historic area in our country, which is President Roosevelt’s former ranch,” she explains. “Indeed, that is what he himself considered to be sort of the cradle of his own conservation ideas.”

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Associated Press: Group Seeks Review of Mining Site Near Teddy Roosevelt Ranch

AP

September 29, 2015

By The Associated Press

An environmental group filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Forest Service over the agency’s decision to allow a man to mine gravel near former President Theodore Roosevelt’s historic western North Dakota ranch.

The lawsuit filed by the National Parks Conservation Association in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., challenges the Forest Service’s decision to issue the mining permit. It requests a more thorough analysis of how the proposed 25-acre gravel pit could affect Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, located within the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and park visitors.

Mining has not yet begun. In January, the Forest Service, which owns the land but not the mineral rights to the mining site, agreed to issue the permit to Montana businessman Roger Lothspeich after the agency said its environmental assessment found “no significant impact” for the project. The decision came after Lothspeich, of Miles City, spent most of the last decade proving he owns the right to remove gravel and other surface minerals at the 5,200 acres surrounding Roosevelt’s ranch, near Medora.

The lawsuit claims that the gravel pit about a mile from Roosevelt’s cabin will cause serious disturbances to the “beauty, serenity and solitude” of the site.

“The proposed large new Elkhorn Gravel Pit would cause significant noise that would be heard in the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park,” attorneys with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which is representing the conservation association, said in the lawsuit. The group also argues that the gravel pit will cause “visual disturbances of the natural landscape” and lead to a decrease in visitors.

The plaintiff’s attorneys also argued that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act because it conducted a narrow environmental study, instead of a broader “environmental impact statement” they say is required for this type of project. The impact statement allows for public comment periods and can take up to two years to complete.

“The Forest Service has an obligation to North Dakotans and all Americans to follow the letter of the law when considering this type of development within view of a National Park, let alone where President Roosevelt once sat on his front porch,” said Bart Melton, regional director for the conservation association’s Northern Rockies district.

Neither Lothspeich nor the Forest Service returned requests for comment on the lawsuit Tuesday. The district ranger in Medora, Shannon Boehm, is also listed as a defendant and declined to comment on the case.

Lothspeich signed an agreement in July 2012 with the U.S. Forest Service to work out an exchange for other federal land or mineral rights at a different location. But Lothspeich told The Associated Press in April 2014 that the government had taken too long to find him land and he decided to mine gravel at the site.

Roosevelt set aside millions of acres for national forests and wildlife refuges during his administration. He spent more than three years in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880s.

The Forest Service purchased the land next to Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch site in 2007. It cost $5.3 million, with $4.8 million coming from the federal government and $500,000 from conservation groups. More than 50 wildlife and conservation groups, including the Boone and Crockett Club started by Roosevelt himself, had pressed Congress to approve the deal. The purchase did not include mineral rights.

Lothspeich, who grew up near the ranch, knew the government had not obtained the mineral rights and bought half of them for an undisclosed price.

Dickinson Press: Group files complaint against U.S. Forest Service over gravel pit near Elkhorn Ranch

An environmentalist citizen’s group has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service in connection to a proposed gravel mine near the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, land formerly owned and operated by the 26th president.

The National Parks Conservation Association, based in Washington, D.C., has alleged in its civil complaint that the Forest Service had violated three federal statutes, including the National Environmental Policy Act, in its January approval of an environmental assessment that would allow plans for the pit in the Dakota Prairie National Grasslands to move forward.

In addition to the U.S. Forest Service as a whole, the defendants listed in the complaint also include Forest Service representatives Dennis Neitzke and Shannon Boehm, along with regional forester Leanne Marten, the agency’s chief, Tom Tidwell, and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.

Bart Melton, the NPCA’s Northern Rockies regional director, said the suit was filed to urge the court to lead the Forest Service to conduct a more thorough environmental review.

“What we’re focused on is some very basic standards that we think they should have considered,” Melton said.

These standards, Melton said, include sound, visual and wildlife impacts to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and specifically the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.

The land that would be used for the mine is on a ranch located about 25 miles north of Medora, within the Medora Ranger District. Surface rights to that ranch were purchased by the Forest Service in 2007 in a package of 5,200 acres for $5.3 million, though the mineral rights were retained by the original landowners, Roger Lothspeich and Peggy Braunberger.

The Press reported in January that Lothspeich had previously offered to accept $2.5 million for the rights, but was declined by both the Forest Service and conservation groups.

Braunberger first applied for a permit to dig the gravel pit in 2008 and the preliminary approval granted by the Forest Service in January would allow 25 acres of the ranch to be mined.

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The Bismarck Tribune: Conservation group sues over gravel mining permit

A conservation group is suing the U.S. Forest Service over a permit to mine gravel on the controversial Eberts Ranch in northern Billings County.

The National Parks Conservation Association says the agency failed to properly analyze how a gravel pit will affect the Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Elkhorn Unit directly across the Little Missouri River.

Bart Melton, a spokesman for the parks conservation group, says the Forest Service should have looked at more than two alternatives when it conducted its assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“They should go back and present the public with more than two alternatives — build or not build the gravel mine. There are plenty of options, such as a mineral swap,” and more that could be developed under a court order, Melton said.

Forest Service supervisor Dennis Neitzke said he can’t comment on the lawsuit while it’s under review by the agency’s attorneys.

The 5,500-acre ranch was a politically charged acquisition for the Forest Service. It paid $5.5 million for it in 2006 when the Eberts family offered it for preservation instead of a private sale.

The agency was later criticized for failing to purchase the mineral rights, when a Montana man stepped forward with his claim to mine gravel on the ranch at a site that overlooks where Theodore Roosevelt built his 1880s-era cattle ranch cabin.

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