Conservationists Should Remember The Land Is Not Theirs


With an oil boom driving unprecedented levels of business, residential and industrial development in western North Dakota a debate over land conservation, and environmental impacts, is an important one to have. The problem is that so few of the people on the conservation/environmental side of the equation seem interested in an adult conversation about the issue.

Most of the oil development in western North Dakota is the result of negotiations between private oil developers and private land owners. Willing buyers and willing sellers. But environmentalists and conservationists seem to want to inject themselves into that relationship, and for issues well beyond prudent concerns for protecting the western environment.

Some of these people seem to think that their desire to hunt or sight-see in western North Dakota should be on equal footing with the property rights of those who own the oil.

Witness the Fargo Forum looking down it’s long, pointy editorial nose at efforts initiated by state oil industry representatives to address the concerns of conservationists through meetings. “[W]e’re not ready to applaud a piece of paper that is filled with good intentions and no means of enforcement,” sniffs the Forum at a voluntary agreement reached between the oil industry, state wildlife officials and conservationist groups. “[I]t’s all smiles and no teeth.”

The oil industry voluntary brings the state and conservationists to the table, and what they get for their troubles is demands for “teeth.”

What’s most upsetting about the attitudes of some of the more obnoxious conservationists is that they seem to believe their preferences for land use are equal to, or even trump, those of the actual land owners. Public land use is, of course, up to public debate. But property rights are important, and those who think they can roadblock and sandbag oil development because of the impact it might have on tourism or hunting should be disabused of such foolish notions.

Those are important considerations, but not as important as a property owner’s right – I’m not invoking that term lightly – to develop the mineral resources on their land.

Oil booms come and go. The markets for petroleum and gas are notoriously volatile. Thus, the window for the sort of production taking place in western North Dakota is a limited one, and nobody knows when it will close. It would be a travesty if some land owners missed out on their opportunity for prosperity because a group of political activists, who don’t actually the land (and many of whom don’t often visit it) made access to difficult or expensive.

Let’s hope that the debate over balancing conservationism and environmental controls with the right to develop mineral resources favors more temperate voices than those at the Fargo Forum.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Flamejob5

    “It’s all smiles and no teeth.”

    Fascists always have and always will hold a disdain for mutual & free volunteerism while worshipping force backed with the threat of violence.

  • Thresherman

    When Forum Communications, as a private entity, allows outsiders to dictate how it should operate, then they will have the moral right to do the same to other private entities. Until that time these hypocrites should STFU.

  • Harold

    With Obama’s new inheritance tax soon most farms and ranch’s and small business’s will be taken to pay this new tax and the govt will own this land too. That’s the plan under Socialism govt owns everything. You work for the govt and they pretend to pay you and you pretend to work.

    • noblindersonme

      Harold you are full of crap! The estate tax is NOTHING NEW! It has been around and debated for decades! You can’t hang this on Obama and tag a socialist slur on it!

      The facts are that estates taxes were debated in every election in the past that I can remember and every time idiots like you are yelping the sky is falling. The relevant issue is how the much the EXCEPTIONS will be ! For years it was well under a million , then through BIPARTISAN debate and COMPRIMISE that exception was raised with each new congress, I could do the research and quote the exact amounts , but hey why don’t YOU do that!!!

      What is going on now I beleive is that the law is soon to expire, and it is a hard fought plan where the exception kept going up to a 5 million level , this was done with democrats and republicans agreeing , I remember how hard Dorgan and Conrad etc worked on it! ( and frankly there are loopholes in that plan too that each family can take advantage of and they do! Such as dividing assets between husband and wife , children etc so a massive estate can still be sheltered from the estate taxes. Farmers have been doing this for years and that is how they get under some subsidy limitations .)

      Port likes to cozy up to farm groups like the Conservative Farm Bureau when it suits him , but years ago when the Farm Bureau was challanged to find a farmer that lost his farm to estate taxes they couldn’t do it! That’s because the rhetoric is all smoke! Farmers would do as I said , divide the land up and take advantage of the higher exceptions!

      What has changed now , AND THIS WHAT YOU SHOULD FOCUS ON , is how land prices have skyrocketed , and how the new laws should be written to meet this new situation. The last I read was that the exception was to revert to the old levels and that old level was NOT acceptable to very many , inc DEMOCRATS!

      Has the new law been written yet Harold ? or are you just wanting to get your anti Obama licks in no matter what!

      I have kept a file over the years about the estate tax debates and it is full with nonsense like yours, fears that never happen. What needs to done NOW is to write a new law , contact our congressmen , Hoeven Heitcamp and Cramer etc and have them work out a solution to get an exception comprimise that is the best to most. and NO Harold whatever is decided on will never please everyone!

      Dont you agree some comprimise can be reached where the Paris Hiltons of the world should not have to inherit wealth without pain of sacrifice and still keep farmers LIKE ME!!! in ownership of the land they love! I believe a sensible law will written .

  • VocalYokel

    “…The Land Is Not Theirs”

    It’s ‘the commons’…just ask Woody Guthrie.

  • Yogibare

    Our local writer Clay Jenkinson advocates for and promotes setting land aside, and protecting the boundaries and viewsheds of such lands. I can agree with some of what he says; we do need to press the people developing the land to take care and be cognizant of their leavings when they have finished.

    That said; I also firmly believe that any such land restricted or set aside that hinders the owner in his use of the land must carry adequate and fair compensation to that owner. It is one thing to advocate the set-aside of land or development, but be prepared to pay for that set-aside.

    Secondly, the administration of “public lands” leaves much to be desired; our federal government is not a good landlord or steward of our parks and forests. They act like they personally own the park and and “we the people” are damn lucky we can enter. Of course we have to pay for the privilege and then we can enter as long as it is between the hours of 8AM and 7PM . You get the drift