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Bryan Horwath, Forum News Service, Published November 03 2013

Photo campaign aims to ‘Save TRNP’

DICKINSON, N.D. – Members of the Dakota Resource Council are hoping a picture will help make Theodore Roosevelt National Park last longer – a lot longer.

The DRC has launched a photo petition designed to raise awareness in helping to protect North Dakota’s only national park. The effort kicked off Oct. 27 on what would have been Roosevelt’s birthday and is slated to continue through Nov. 10.

“What we’re trying to do is get people to take pictures of themselves or with groups and email those pictures to us or put them on social media,” DRC senior field organizer Scott Skokos said. “The idea is to send these photo petitions to decision-makers, such as Gov. Jack Dalrymple or the secretary of the Department of the Interior. We want to influence these decision-makers to show support, helping to protect the viewshed of the park.”

Sometime on Nov. 10 – a date that will mark the 35th anniversary of the park being designated a national park – a complete portfolio of submitted photos will be sent to a short list of policymakers, Skokos said.

“People across North Dakota, and beyond, support the national park here,” Skokos said. “We want to give the decision-makers that visual, which is a little different than a standard petition with just signatures. This has a face associated with it.”

Along with added jobs and a significant boost to North Dakota’s economy and state coffers, the state’s latest oil boom in the Bakken region has also brought questions and controversy about conservation-related issues.

In March, it was reported that ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. had staked out a site and planned to drill for oil about 100 feet from the historic Elkhorn Ranch, a plot of land that is part of TRNP and is the site of the foundation of the cabin where Roosevelt once lived as a young man before becoming the 26th U.S. president.

Due partly to a public backlash, XTO eventually altered its plans and last month was approved by the North Dakota Industrial Commission to combine pad locations and drill at a site about two miles from the Elkhorn Ranch site, reportedly far enough away as not to disturb the area’s experience for visitors.

Also last month, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he has spent time meeting with people and hopes to have a newly compiled list of “extraordinary places” in the state that would be ready for debate at the Nov. 18 Industrial Commission meeting in Bismarck. The protected sites would likely be off-limits for energy developers.

In a statement Friday, XTO spokeswoman Emily Snooks stated that her company is committed to developing energy resources in North Dakota while avoiding “surface disturbances” as much as possible.

“We are pleased that the (Industrial Commission) approved XTO’s application to combine two units, resulting in additional options for well locations,” Snooks stated. “We believe that the new spacing unit configuration addresses concerns previously raised by park officials. Separately, XTO has been in negotiations with another operator to utilize an existing well pad located off of federal lands. Pending approval, this will allow us to develop the resources while reducing the footprint of our drilling operations.”

DRC executive director and Minot native Don Morrison said his organization has never been against energy development in North Dakota, but it does have an interest in helping ensure that such development and exploration occur in a conservation-friendly fashion.

“There are a whole host of reasons why we set aside places like Theodore Roosevelt National Park for recreation and to preserve part of our landscape where we live,” Morrison said. “It’s critically important, and that’s the reason why it has been set aside. Part of what we’re saying is, if there’s oil development all around it, then that kind of defeats the purpose of having the national park. We want to preserve (Theodore Roosevelt National Park) and make sure it’s a place people want to visit.”

Though pump jacks and other oil and gas exploration infrastructure is clearly visible from certain areas in both the North and South Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Morrison said it isn’t too late to try to protect many areas of the park and the western North Dakota Badlands.

“People drill in national parks and other parks,” Morrison said. “It’s not concrete that there wouldn’t ever be drilling within the park. Most people think that, but it’s not true.

“I don’t think we can take anything for granted unless the people who live here say, ‘Hey, we really want to protect that.’ That’s what will make sure areas are protected. Otherwise, it may or may not be. It’s not too late to do something.”

Send your photos

Photos can be emailed to Dakota Resource Council senior field organizer Scott Skokos at scott@drcinfo.com or can be shared on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #savetrnp.

Skokos said submitted photos don’t have to be taken at TRNP, but can be with any background and can include messages, such as people holding up signs.