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Published July 07 2012

Forum editorial: Special status for TR’s ranch

The idea of preserving Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch in North Dakota’s Badlands as a national monument is not new. But the prospect has been given new life in North Dakota and beyond by humanities scholar and author Clay Jenkinson. His weekly Sunday column in the Bismarck Tribune has been one of the more eloquent voices in describing the beauty and heritage of the Badlands and, more recently, the threats to the state’s most scenic vistas and environments. Jenkinson is known for his portrayals of TR, and also has written extensively about the Roughrider president’s influence on North Dakota, and North Dakota’s life-changing influence on TR.

Jenkinson also is one of the nation’s leading Thomas Jefferson and Meriweather Lewis scholars. He created “The Thomas Jefferson Hour,” a weekly public radio program about Jefferson as seen through the third president’s eyes and through Jenkinson’s scholarship. His new Lewis book has re-ignited scholarly debate about the life and death of one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Jenkinson knows his stuff. When he wrote a week ago about the possibility of national monument status for Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, he was expressing his love for the place, and charting a path to protecting the site from proposed developments that would compromise the values that make the ranch unique.

Jenkinson’s voice joins others, most notably Tweed Roosevelt, great-grandson of the president, in urging President Barack Obama to declare the “greater Elkhorn Ranch” a national monument. It would include some lands known as the Ebert’s Ranch, where one of the threats to the landscape is a proposed gravel mine. The other is a bridge across the Little Missouri River that would increase truck traffic (mostly oil-related trucks) within hearing and seeing distance of the ranch.

Tweed Roosevelt and others have called upon the president to move on monument status. Roosevelt met with the president and reported that Obama liked the idea but probably would not act until after the November election. If the president did act, he would not be setting precedent. Jenkinson noted that George W. Bush designated two national monuments during his time in office, one in the Pacific and one in New York City.

Everything about the Elkhorn Ranch meets requirements for a national monument. But as important, protecting the ranch would honor TR’s choice of the site for, as Jenkinson wrote, “it’s remoteness and solitude.” Gravel pits and truck bridges would destroy those values, and thus compromise the site’s status for preservation. There are other places to mine gravel and bridge the river.

Oil and gas development is an unprecedented assault on the history, heritage and landscape of the Badlands and the ranching culture that TR embraced. Obama should preserve the Elkhorn and the values it represents, and do it before it’s too late.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.