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

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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