An Open Letter To Governor Doug Burgum, On The Occasion Of The Greatest Threat Ever To The Little Missouri State Scenic River

Dear Governor Burgum,

Let me quote from the conservation easement you signed for some ranchland you and your friends own in southwest North Dakota’s Bad Lands six years ago:

“The Protected Property possesses agricultural, scenic, and historic, and cultural values. The Protected Property is located in the heart of the only Ponderosa pine forest in North Dakota, south of Teddy Roosevelt’s historic Maltese Cross Ranch. This area is rich in history and is deep in the North Dakota Badlands. The scenic Little Missouri River runs directly through the Protected Property and is the only state-designated scenic river in North Dakota. (emphasis added)

“The Little Missouri National Grasslands . . . offer significant open space and scenic values to local residents and the general public. In addition, the integrity of the Little Missouri River corridor is significant to the entire state, region and nation in the context of its historic and cultural role in the Native American history of the Upper Great Plains . . .” (emphasis added)

“Preservation of the Protected Property as an undeveloped area will provide significant public benefit via the tremendous scenic qualities and visual access the Protected Property possesses.” (emphasis added)

“These Conservation Values are of great importance to the Grantor, Grantee, and the people of the state of North Dakota. In addition, these values are vitally important to the people of the nation due to the significant relationship to the river corridor and the need to preserve the view along the Little Missouri River in this specific area. (emphasis added)

That was YOU, Governor Burgum six years ago, writing about YOUR ranch in the southern Bad Lands. A document filed in the Slope County Court House in Amidon, North Dakota.

Well, Governor, that was when you were just a ranch owner and only concerned about protecting your little piece of the Little Missouri River. Concerned enough to try to put a perpetual conservation easement on that land so it could never be developed. So that there could never, ever, be anything more than a gravel road leading to the river bottom. So that commercial and industrial development, like water depots and truck refueling stations, would be forbidden on that piece of the Little Missouri River. FOREVER.

Again, from your document:

“The purpose of these Covenants is to preserve and protect in perpetuity the Conservation Values of the Protected Property . . . in accordance with (Section) 170(h) of the Internal Revenue Code.”

I don’t know if you were successful, since perpetual easements are illegal in North Dakota. I don’t know if you were seeking, or received, federal tax breaks for putting this easement on your property because Section 170(h) of the Internal Revenue Code, which your refer to several more times in your easement document, specifically says A contribution shall not be treated as exclusively for conservation purposes unless the conservation purpose is protected in perpetuity.” And easements of this sort in North Dakota are limited to 99 years. Which is certainly not “perpetuity.”

Well, anyway. That was then, when you were responsible and concerned for just your little chunk of the Little Missouri River, and no one doubts that your motives were anything less that sincere about protecting the Little Missouri State Scenic River valley.

But now, Governor Burgum, you’re Governor of the whole state, and responsible for protecting the entire Little Missouri River, “the only state-designated scenic river in North Dakota,” as you so ably pointed out in your easement papers.

That State Scenic River designation is part of our state’s laws, in Chapter 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code, which says:

“Channelization, reservoir construction, or diversion other than for agricultural or recreational purposes and the dredging of waters within the confines of the Little Missouri scenic river and all Little Missouri River tributary streams are expressly prohibited. “ (emphasis added)

The only water that can come out of that river is water to be used for “agricultural or recreational purposes.” Because the North Dakota Legislature said, in writing this law in 1975, that the Little Missouri State Scenic River is too valuable to the state to allow industrialization of the river to take place.

At least, that is what it says today. But now there’s a new law in front of you, Governor, awaiting your signature (or your veto?) passed by the 2017 Legislature, which changes all that. For the last ten years or so, your State Water Commission, of which you, now, as Governor, are the chairman of, has been violating that law and issuing permits for industrial use of Little Missouri State Scenic River water. This year, your staff over there at the Water Commission has decided to come clean, and ask that those permits be made legal. Mind you, they didn’t  cancel the permits when we found out they were issuing them illegally. They just decided to change the law to make them legal. With the help of Oil Industry lobbyists and friendly Republican Legislators. No doubt those Oil Industry lobbyists are perched outside your office right now, waiting to encourage you to sign the bill into law and give them, legally, million of gallons of Little Missouri State Scenic River water.

And that’s what the bill in front of you, HB 1020 passed this week by the 65th North Dakota Legislative Assembly, does. And those Legislators are asking you to sign it into law. So that their friends (and more and more, it’s starting to look like your friends, too) in the Oil Industry can continue to get that water.

And if you and the Legislature make it legal, the Oil Industry will probably want way more than they’ve been getting so far, from those 600 illegal water permits they were issued by your Water Commission staff over the last ten years. They won’t have to worry about any penalties for breaking the law any more.

So are you going to sign it, Governor Burgum? Are you going to legalize the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River valley? Or are you going to remember what you wrote six years ago about your little piece of the Little Missouri State Scenic River valley:

“The integrity of the Little Missouri River corridor is significant to the entire state, region and nation in the context of its historic and cultural role in the Native American history of the Upper Great Plains . . .” and an “undeveloped area will provide significant public benefit via the tremendous scenic qualities . . .”

Water tanker trucks and dry riverbeds don’t contribute much to the “integrity” or “scenic qualities” of the Little Missouri State Scenic River valley. Are you going to let that happen? Or are you going to accept your responsibility as Governor of the WHOLE state, and the WHOLE Little Missouri State Scenic River, and veto the section of HB 1020 that opens up the river valley to industrialization by the oil industry? The Little Missouri State Scenic River is counting on you, Governor Burgum. You decide.

Governor Burgum, please read, and contemplate a little bit, this poem from my dear friend Debra Marquart, written before the bust. Debra is a native North Dakotan who, like you, cares deeply about her state, Governor Burgum. Read this and maybe you’ll give that veto power just a little more consideration.

LAMENT

By Debra Marquart

(c) 2015

 

north dakota,   I’m worried about you

the company you keep   all these new friends   north dakota

beyond the boom, beyond the extraction  of precious resources

do you think they care what becomes of you

 

north dakota, you used to be the shy one

enchanted secret land only by a few   north dakota

 

when I traveled away and told people I  belonged to you   north dakota

your name rolled awkwardly from their tongues

a mouth full of rocks, the name of a foreign country

 

north dakota   you were the blushing wallflower

the natural beauty, nearly invisible, always on the periphery

north dakota   the least visited state in the union

 

now everyone knows your name   north dakota

the blogs and all the papers are talking about you   even 60 minutes

 

I’m collecting your clippings   north dakota

the pictures of you from space

the flare ups in your northern corner

like an exploding super nova

a massive city where no city exists

a giant red blight upon the land

 

and those puncture wounds   north dakota   take care of yourself

the injection sites   i see them on the maps

eleven thousand active wells    one every two miles

 

all your indicators are up   north dakota

four hundred billion barrels, some estimates say

more oil than we have water to extract

more oil than we have air to burn

 

north dakota   you could run the table right now   you could write your own ticket

so, how can I tell you this?   north dakota, your politicians

 

are co-opted (or cowards or bought-out or honest and thwarted)

they’re lowering the tax rate for oil companies

they’re greasing the wheels that need no greasing

they’re practically giving the water away

they’ve opened you up and said, take everything

 

north dakota   dear sleeping beauty   please, wake up

 

what will become of your sacred places,

what will become of the prairie dog

the wolf, the wild horses, the eagle

the meadowlark, the fox, the elk

the pronghorn antelope, the rare mountain lion

the roads, the air, the topsoil

your people, your people,

what will become of the water?

 

north dakota   who will ever be able to live with you

once this is all over   I’m speaking to you now

as one wildcat girl   to another   be careful    north Dakota

9 Responses

  1. Karenlarson

    What is goung on in the oil companies is very wrong for the land and the people who live here. Please don’t let them take our beautiful badlands away

  2. Bill Kingsbury

    Jim, Pat & I spent a # of days there a few years ago. It was, without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever put a tripod on. Guess I could say if there was a Heaven on earth this would be it. Bill Kingsbury

  3. northwind

    Again ty for the letter I’m totally amazed that a Governor of this great State could live with himself IF he doesn’t stop the evil destruction the oil companies want to do to our beautiful land!!! We can only hope and pray that he will finally see in his heart the power he has to STOP this! Years from now he will look back and say I COULD HAVE STOPPED THIS AND I DID NOTHING!!

  4. Joan

    Jim, Thanks for sharing this open letter with us, and also for sharing the beautiful poem written by Debra Marquart. I just hope Gov. Burgum keeps the people and the land in mind and vetoes this part of HB 1020, if he hasn’t done so already.

  5. Christine Hogan

    I love this, especially the use of the Governor’s own document. I am amazed you discovered it! Lawyers dream of such stuff!

Comments are closed.