A Letter From The Game And Fish Director

North Dakota Game and Fish Department Director Terry Steinwand will release a final draft of the report titled “POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT ON SELECT NORTH DAKOTA NATURAL RESOURCES” by the end of May, nearly a year after it was written and two months after it was first revealed by blogger Chad Nodland on NorthDecoder.com that it had been suppressed by the North Dakota Governor’s office for ten months.

Director Steinwand told me in a letter dated May 18 that he had hoped to have the report, which was submitted to him by his staff in June of 2010,  finalized by mid-summer 2011, “but that time frame has been moved to the end of May at the latest.”

“Once the legislative session concluded I had a little more time to spend specifically on this effort,” Steinwand said in his letter, written in response to a letter I sent him on April 27, and which I also posted here after I had not received a response in two weeks. “The review is essentially complete as I write this letter and anticipate that the end of May time frame will be easily reached once the edits are made, which are relatively minor. Once those tasks are accomplished we will place the document on our website.”

Let me again suggest that the report, which is 120 pages single spaced, be also printed and made available to the public in a published report as well as online, as I suggested in my first report on this issue. I suspect most people who will be interested in reading it (sportsmen, environmentalists, outdoor enthusiasts, other concerned North Dakotans) would, like me, have to burn up a couple of ink cartridges to print a document of that size on our little home printers, and it is not realistic that we should want to read it on our computer screen. To offer it only online continues the obfuscation of the issue.

The big question now, of course, is what action will the Game and Fish Department take in response to the recommendations contained in the report. Releasing the report is one thing. Taking action is another. Steinwand says much the same in his letter to me: “By itself it (the report) accomplishes nothing but the actions in the months and years to come will tell us if the strategy is effective.” I am not sure what strategy  he is referring to. See if you can figure it out. I promised when I posted my letter to him that I would post his response to me. Here it is.

Dear Jim:

First, I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I’m still catching up from a prolonged legislative session while dealing with the seemingly endless day to day issues that are larger this spring as they relate to water issues. Thank you for your recent letter regarding energy development in western North Dakota and wildlife. You asked a number of questions in your letter and I will try my best to answer most, if not all of them. I do want to emphasize one issue, however, that I thought was unstated but implied in your letter and that was that the department was “rolling over” for the energy industry. While it is an important part of North Dakota’s economy, I recognize what my job is in the state’s structure and that is to be an advocate for the fish and wildlife resource as well as those that enjoy and use it.

I will first explain the purpose of the energy report. I asked a group of experts within the department to gather information from other states in the upper Midwest that was scientifically defensible and compile a report to the Director, which would ultimately be used to work with energy officials to reduce or avoid any potential impacts and identify any data gaps that might exist so we can more accurately predict what might or might not occur as a result of oil and gas activity. Given the amount of information provided in the report, it takes time to adequately review and provide a well thought out and logical strategy on how to move forward and accomplish what I’ve set out to do. Even though the report has not been give the “final” stamp, it doesn’t mean nothing is being done. We’ve consistently worked with energy companies on our lands (wildlife management areas) in the northwest on roads, pads, etc. to reduce any potential impacts, as well as other state agencies to determine what can be done to address concerns.

My initial plans were to have the report to me final by mid-summer but that time frame has been moved to the end of May at the latest. Once the legislative session had concluded I had a little more time to spend specifically on this effort.The review is essentially complete as I write this letter and anticipate that the end of May time frame will easily be reached once the edits are made, which are relatively minor. Once those tasks are accomplished we will place the document on our website. This is a dynamic document and as we move forward and as more information is learned, the document will be periodically reviewed and updated. Again, while all of this is occurring, I have been in contact with the State Health Department since mid-winter and have met with Lynn Helms to discuss issues. These discussions are continuing and will continue well into the future. And as we progress, the list of participants will increase.

As you well know, this is a complicated issue and I’ve learned over the years it’s not always as simple as it seems. All of the tasks you’ve listed for ‘next steps,’ e.g., interagency meetings, meeting with industry officials, etc., are part of the strategy we have to adapt and the plan tends to change as we learn new items. The work on these activities began months ago and the report is only part of the process. By itself it accomplishes nothing but the actions in the months and years to come will tell us if the strategy is effective.

Jim, I take my job seriously and personally. I will work with whomever I need to so the issues can be balanced. Fish and wildlife as well as the oil and gas industry will be on the landscape of North Dakota well after I’m gone. I want to do all I can to insure that the heritage of North Dakota and the well being of fish and wildlife resource of our great state in general is there for all to enjoy.

Sincerely,

Terry Steinwand

Director

Well, that was polite (much more polite than my letter to him) and cautiously guarded, and answered some of my questions. But the development is happening really, really fast, and actions by the department to protect more than just Game and Fish Department-owned lands need to happen really, really fast as well.

Please set aside just an hour of your life to get the report and read it. Share your thoughts with the Director. Read the 19 action items recommended by the biologists in Appendix A and share your thoughts on them with the director, and with your local Legislators. There are a whole lot of critters out there depending on us. Let’s not let them down.

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2 Responses to A Letter From The Game And Fish Director

  1. Ron says:

    As I watch the face of my beloved northwestern ND change dramatically, I find my thoughts swing back and forth. It’s nice to see some economic well-being underway in what has traditionally been one of the poorer parts of the state. The economic boost to the state is exciting. And, our family has mineral rights that are leased to an oil company – the thought of a new retirement plan is enticing. The impacts of constant traffic, beat up roads, oil spills, salt-water spills, groundwater concerns, as-yet undermined wildlife population adjustments, change of the “Mayberry” quality of life in small, but dying towns; all of these impacts and more are concerning. The CEO of a major oil company said on TV a few weeks ago that the Bakken in ND will result in up to 40,000 wells being drilled by 2040. If I heard that correctly, what we’re seeing today is nothing.

    I’ve been involved in situations related to oil industry impacts on wildlife populations. ND Game and Fish can have minor victories on wildlife impacts, but the owners of the minerals, and those lessees who extract the oil, rule supreme. ND Game and Fish has no real authority to change where they site their wells. Does anyone recall the battle back in the late ’80′s when companies decided to place a well in the lambing grounds of a herd of bighorns in the Badlands? A battle ensued, Game and Fish got some research money from oil companies, engineered through Governor Sinner, and now that herd is gone for the most part.

    I like the fact that the Game and Fish report is going public. It is part of a needed education process. People need to see that there are tradeoffs. Defending wildlife habitat to the masses is an incredibly tough job when the state climate is “drill, baby, drill” and the Director serves at the whim of the Governor. In this state, I’m doubtful it matters whether that governor is blue or red. Since mineral rights legally “rule supreme”, ND Game and Fish’s best possible scenario in the long run may well be for the public to support minimization of impacts to wildlife. With public support, perhaps that can help get the oil companies to the table to voluntarily work to provide some mitigative measures. That will require some thoughtful education processes.

    We’ve been thinking of retiring along the north shore of Lake Sakakawea in a few years. Now we’re watching to see if we’ll still like the area once it’s time to retire. Perhaps instead we’ll retire to SD and visit Lake Sak during summer vacations…. It’s all a fascinating conundrum, and the stakes are high!

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