Roosevelt descendant comes to park’s defense

WILLISTON, N.D. — A descendant of Theodore Roosevelt is outraged by how oil development threatens his great-great-grandfather’s legacy and is urging people to take action.

Winthrop Roosevelt narrates a video released Tuesday that shows how North Dakota’s oil boom is affecting Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

“The region’s unchecked development is on a collision course with one of America’s truly special places,” Roosevelt says in the documentary.

The video, about 5½ minutes long, highlights how natural gas flaring, truck traffic and noise from drilling rigs outside the park boundaries are changing visitors’ experience in the park. It raises greater concerns about how continued development of the Bakken will leave the park’s three units surrounded by oil activity.

“This is the beginning, and just the beginning, of what will be a massive invasion of the heart of Roosevelt country and Theodore Roosevelt National Park by oil development,” North Dakota author and scholar Clay Jenkinson says in the video released by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Winthrop Roosevelt, 30, a graduate student studying public policy at Northeastern University in Boston, said in an interview Tuesday his family cherishes the park and monitors how it’s being affected. They were “a bit outraged” by a recent proposal from XTO to drill for oil adjacent to Elkhorn Ranch, where his great-great-grandfather lived in the mid-1880s.

XTO asked for the matter to be removed from the agenda of a hearing held in Bismarck last week, but company officials continue to work with the U.S. Forest Service to identify a drilling site in the area, an XTO spokesman said last week.

“If it was not for that ranch and the time he spent in North Dakota, he would never have been president,” Roosevelt said.

Winthrop Roosevelt spent a summer at Medora during the late 1990s working as a grill chef at the Chuckwagon. He said he last visited the state about four or five years ago and hopes to return this summer.

“I do love the Badlands and I love the time I spent in North Dakota,” Roosevelt said.

Roosevelt said he is not opposed to oil development, but he doesn’t think it should come at the cost of the national park and the beauty of the Badlands. He suggests a possible buffer zone around the park or moratorium on certain types of activities immediately outside of the park.

In a column published Tuesday in The Daily Beast, Roosevelt urges people to contact the White House and other elected officials to encourage them to put conservation on equal ground with energy development.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission plans to hold a meeting in the Badlands after the legislative session is over and discuss ways to balance oil development with preserving significant landmarks.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said in an interview last week he’d like the commission to develop a list of places that everyone agrees that “no matter what happens, they should not be directly impacted.”

Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor, who also appears in the video, said she’s glad the documentary calls attention to the energy boom’s impact on the park. Park officials want to try to preserve the view around the park, the night skies and the natural sound, Naylor said.

“If we all work together, we can preserve a national park while developing mineral resources,” Naylor said.

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