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Published December 11, 2009, 12:00 AM

Forest Service should keep Badlands ranch agreement

I was disappointed to read The Forum editorial on the proposal to bestow a historic designation on a small portion of the North Dakota Badlands (Dec. 9).

By: Sen. Byron Dorgan, INFORUM

I was disappointed to read The Forum editorial on the proposal to bestow a historic designation on a small portion of the North Dakota Badlands (Dec. 9).

This issue is not about politics. In fact, it’s pretty simple: The Forest Service made a promise when it purchased the 12,000 acres, and I believe it ought to keep that commitment.

I grew up near the Badlands in western North Dakota, and I believe it’s one of the great treasures of our state.

I worked hard for several years to allow the federal government to purchase the property that was called the Elkhorn Ranch and was at one point owned by Theodore Roosevelt. The property was privately owned, and many people wanted the federal government to purchase it and preserve it as a unique part of our state’s history.

I engaged in very difficult and lengthy negotiations between conservation groups, ranchers, grazing associations, the state Game and Fish Department, Gov. John Hoeven and my two North Dakota colleagues in Congress.

In the end, the negotiations resulted in an agreement that would allow the federal government to acquire Roosevelt’s ranchland from private owners. But the agreement included many stipulations related to the purchase and the use of land. After we reached that agreement, I then passed federal legislation that gave the Forest Service the ability to purchase the land, and the purchase was completed.

Now, I believe the federal government has an obligation to abide by the agreement they entered into.

Recently, the Forest Service wanted to abrogate that agreement by creating a “forage bank” out of part of that land. But the agreement required that the land would continue to be grazed, so I felt that Forest Service proposal was an action that undermined the agreement the Forest Service had made.

The current dispute arose because the Forest Service wants to put this 12,000-acre parcel of land on the National Register of Historic Places. That action is opposed by officials from state and local governments. In addition, that action will allow further steps that could limit uses of the land, which will be a violation of the agreement by which the federal government was allowed to purchase the land.

I just want the Forest Service to keep its word. Proceeding with this designation and pushing other plans that are outside of the agreement that allowed the federal government to acquire the property would be a violation of the agreement.

The federal government made a promise, and I expect them to keep it. It’s that simple.


Dorgan, D, has served North Dakota in the U.S. Senate since 1992. He is up

for re-election in 2010.

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