Protecting Teddy Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch

Protecting Teddy Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch

Yesterday, I read an in-depth article by noted historian Edmund Morris, discussing an endangered U.S. historical site.

Morris stated, “The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced on Wednesday that Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch beside the Little Missouri River, an exquisitely peaceful meadow revered as the cradle of conservation, is one of America’s 11 most endangered historic places.”

Sadly, two commercial developments will soon impose upon the North Dakota beauty of Elkhorn Ranch, which was so eloquently described by Roosevelt in his autobiography.

Pending are two significant threats to the landscape, a proposed bridge and oil-access highway, across the river and upstream from the Elkhorn Ranch, as well a prospector armed with mining rights who is focused on excavating a gravel pit on a ridge across the river, thus forever spoiling the view of Roosevelt’s peaceful meadow.

This will be a great loss, both symbolic and physical, as those of us with a passion for the outdoors hold Roosevelt’s unprecedented leadership in the highest regard.
His presidential achievements included:

• Establishing or enlarging 150 national forests
• 6 national parks
• 4 game preserves
• 51 federal bird reservations 
• 18 national monuments

In total, President Roosevelt protected 230 million acres for wildlife, resources and public use.

Roosevelt clearly understood that nature would not remain “natural” without the protective hand of a true sportsman’s heart. As I envisioned the potential transformation of Elkhorn Ranch from iconic shrine to a landscape scarred with multi-tiered strip mines, silt clogged rivers, and silver-gray raised pipeline; I became saddened.

While Roosevelt clearly recognized the right and duty of his generation to develop, and use the natural resources of our land; he fervently fought against those who wanted to waste or rob what is owed to the generations to come.

Often our political “leadership” today is focused more on re-election than resolution, while average citizens, who have not had the chance to experience the deep solace of nature, pursue whatever Madison Avenue has programmed into our media saturated psyche.

We have today in many urban locations, a disconnected society which hunts, and gathers things that provide no core serenity or enduring satisfaction. So much of our youth is being lost to a consumable culture that forever drops in and out of fad. They are becoming a generation without the lifeline of being connected to our sportsmen’s legacy.

For a moment, our leaders should pause, reflect and then closely follow the positive lead of both Roosevelt and the generation of sportsmen who have followed.  They should emulate positive conservation efforts and respect positive economic impact such as:

  • Growth in 1907 from 41,000 elk to over 1 million today.
  • $725 million in annual revenue dedicated to conservation programs, but paid by hunters through state licenses and other fees.
  • The 11% tax on guns, ammo, bows and arrows requested by hunters in 1937 to help fund conservation.
  • The $25 billion a year in retail spending that funds both the economy and retail spending.
  • The continued increase in hunter spending dedicated to conservation, despite the recent decline in actual hunting.

I remember a lesson from high school sociology class; when a single human spots another human in danger, there is a high probability that the person will be saved. If however a crowd is watching the same situation, the reaction time is delayed.

Roosevelt did not wait. He was not paralyzed by the assumption that “someone else” would leap in and assume the hero role. Today, many of our leaders seem to be caught in political battles.

These individuals, who lack an essential connection to our land or sportsmen’s legacy, hesitate supporting any larger initiatives such as historical land and designated wilderness area preservation. Instead they favor actions that tie to shorter-term economic gains.

Those who understand and fight for preservation are unfairly portrayed as caring more for a single fawn than providing economic growth to feed a family.

I can hear Roosevelt in my dreams when I read of progress, clear-cutting, extracting, depleting and scarring. I can picture him saying some form of this, “Nature has only one person who can save her and it’s me.” I would bet my favorite bow his patriarchal actions were not of a land baron with a desire for egotistical control.

Roosevelt’s leadership is a mindset that we should all repeat and teach in some form each day to our youth. Our leaders must awaken with a belief that they can protect nature, rather than watch it become a lost treasure, buried beneath a headstone of “progress”.

Roosevelt was a single man, but held by all sportsmen with the utmost regard. Protecting Elkhorn Ranch, what many have described as the Walden’s Pond of the West, would be a wise step in keeping alive this most poignant example of strength, vision and true conservation leadership.

Providing enduring protection for such a small-scale oasis is an opportunity for our current president to add symbolically to the original grand efforts of a man who preserved so much for so many.

Copyright ~ Bulls & Beavers June 2012. Chris Burget, Founder B&B & contributing editor Chris Koches

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