Theodore Roosevelt
Administrative History
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One of the most important resources of the park is its rural ambience. Even though the essence of the badlands is its natural resources, protecting the character of that land can almost be considered the realm of cultural resources management, for by protecting the rural character of the badlands the Service also protects the scene Roosevelt knew. This is important because the integrity of both the natural and historical ambience is a prerequisite to the exercise of one's imagination, and with a little imagination (and a little more physical effort) visitors can empathize, rather than merely sympathize, with what Roosevelt did during his time in Dakota Territory.

The protection of the character of the badlands is achieved by means of aesthetic management. In its broadest sense, aesthetic management is concerned with the preservation of possibilities: as more and more of the country becomes industrialized and cultivated, national parks take on a correspondingly greater importance as places offering a different sensory experience. Theodore Roosevelt provides two such alternatives to visitors. The first is the chance to find solitude in natural surroundings. It has always been available in the park, but was greatly facilitated by the designation of wilderness areas in the North and South units in 1978. The second is the possibility of approximating Roosevelt's total sensory experience of a hundred years ago: to see what he saw, smell what he smelled, hear what he heard. This total sensory experience can be referred to as "the natural and historical scene."

The reader will note that these two alternative sensory experiences are not entirely exclusive of each other, for one's sense of solitude can be disrupted by the sight of an object which also degrades the natural and historical scene (such as a battery of oil tanks just outside the boundary of the park). The preconditions for the two overlap considerably. Nevertheless, for the purposes of discussion, they will be taken in turn. [1]


Being by one's self has long been recognized as a desire of many who visit natural areas. [2] The solitude they seek is an avoidance, of two things: other people, and extraneous human-caused intrusions. For a variety of reasons backcountry use at Theodore Roosevelt has not been heavy (see Chapter 11), so without undue trouble a visitor can be alone. But today even a hike into the deepest badlands doesn't assure one of escaping the sounds, sights, and smells of the industrialized world.

The worst sensory impingement on solitude is noise, an insidious reminder that one is not far from civilization. Propane-powered oil pump engines and traffic along the Burlington Northern Railroad, U. S. Route 85, and Interstate 94 are the main sources of noise in the park. Under the right meteorological conditions the thump of pumps, the clatter of fast-moving freight trains, and the meshing of semi-trailer truck gears can be heard at just about any point in Theodore Roosevelt. [3]

Seismic blasting and low-flying aircraft during exploration are only two of the potential sources of noise pollution associated with the search for energy in the Williston Basin. Cooperation with other agencies and private companies is essential if the Service hopes to minimize these intrusions; in fact, park personnel have occasionally met with the Forest Service (which controls most of the surface area in the Basin) to discuss common interests. [4] After one such meeting the Forest Service agreed to require seismic test crews to stay back a half mile from the boundary of the North Unit. [5] The Service has also conferred with oil companies to reduce overflight noise, especially during the surge in exploration of 1978 to 1980 when "the number of low-flying helicopters and airplanes . . . multiplied to the point of detracting from the park's wild quality." [6]

Recent plans to improve the airstrip at Medora also jeopardize the park's ability to provide solitude. The present runway, just south of Interstate 94, receives light use. It is supposed to lie entirely on USFS land by virtue of a special use permit, but because of an error actually encroaches about three hundred feet onto park land. The Service has allowed this "only because there was good faith effort to find another location." [7]

In 1982 Medora officials and business leaders, with the support of the State Aeronautics Commission, revived an old proposal to extend the runway to a length that would accommodate private jets. They have since refused to consider a shorter rebuilt runway lying entirely out side the park; instead, they want NPS to provide land for their project. [8] The proponents of a longer airstrip include the Gold Seal Company of Bismarck, which has refurbished Medora and turned it into the top tourist attraction in the state. The company and its allies hope, naturally, to increase business by making the village more accessible to conventions and wealthy vacationers. [9]

The position of the Service is that the current encroachment is a misuse of park lands that would only be worsened by lengthening the runway. More important, the orientation of the runway (southeast to northwest), combined with the prevailing west-northwest winds, places the most prevalent takeoff pattern directly over the South Unit. [10] Since 1958 NPS has tried to have the airstrip moved elsewhere, but the Gold Seal proposal has "a fair amount of support from various levels of state and local government," and "to stand against it is viewed as the classic stand against 'progress'." The power of the "various levels" was shown in late 1984 when the Forest Service announced its intention to cancel the permit for the airstrip on its land and to turn over the entire parcel (seventy to eighty acres) to NPS. After a public comment period, the village of Medora appealed the decision and won a reversal. The Forest Service then announced that it would neither cancel the permit nor transfer the land, but would instead take part in an environmental impact statement (though not as the lead agency) for an expansion of the airstrip. [11]

The natural and historical scene

Today, the Park Service recognizes that the primary significance of the park depends upon keeping the natural and historical scene of Roosevelt's time, so that people are afforded "the opportunity to experience the land and its resources and to reach an understanding of them, as Roosevelt once did." [12] It is hoped that visitors, by virtue of coming to the park, will gain an appreciation of the badlands similar to Roosevelt's own. For this to happen, the rural ambience of the park must be protected.

Maintenance of the visual scene is a first priority. Scenic degradation at Theodore Roosevelt has been caused by actual impairment of visibility and by the intrusion into park vistas of man-made structures not historically befitting the area.

A clear, sharp view of the badlands was important to Roosevelt when he ranched in Dakota Territory (see his description at the beginning of Chapter 9). The only sources of visibility impairment he experienced were smoke from wildfires and burning coal seams, blowing dust, and perhaps small plumes emanating from the Marquis de Mores' short-lived beef packing plant in Medora. [13]

In 1947 the park's air was considered virtually pristine. Visibility was so good that Congress cited the "truly rugged, scenic territory where the imagination may perceive most any shape or semblance" in support of the park's creation. [14] On the whole, air quality and visibility are still good, but recent energy development outside the park (and not just from sources immediately outside, but from those in the northern Plains as a whole and even beyond) has posed the possibility of degrading visibility within. The last decade has brought a sharp increase in particulate pollution, prompting one park report to declare that controlling visual degradation is essential if management objectives are to be met. [15]

But by 1977 energy exploration in the Williston Basin was beginning to boom, so the staff prepared the first documentation of overall air quality in the park, including gathering historical references to visibility and identifying important scenic vistas. [16] In that same year the Clean Air Act Amendments were passed. This law has had a profound effect. It made the park a "Class I" area; now, the most stringent rules to prevent significant deterioration of Theodore Roosevelt's air quality are in force. [17]

Class I designation led the staff to prepare a completely new assessment of visibility. It listed anthropogenic and natural sources of impairment, areas and features of Theodore Roosevelt most subject to degradation, distances of threats from the park, and management practices affecting visibility. External sources of impairment included agricultural cultivation and increased oil company traffic along scoria-dirt roads, causing "fugitive dust"; flash burning of sludge from pits next to oil wells, creating heavy columns of black smoke which can be seen for miles; automotive emissions from traffic on Interstate 94; and suspended particulate matter carried aloft to the park from electrical generating and coal gasification plants a long distance away, both of which cause decreased ambient air quality. Still, the staff reported that "at present manmade impairments appear to be very limited and only infrequently impair visibility," and that natural elements disrupt visibility five days or fewer during the summer visitor season. They resolved to preserve this excellence against deterioration by taking "appropriate positive action in those instances in which present air quality is affected or threatened." [18]

Visibility monitoring has increased. TSP (total suspended particulates) levels have been measured in the South Unit since September 1974 and in the North Unit since December 1978 by the North Dakota State Department of Health. The park staff itself measures visibility with a teleradiometer, with rangers taking readings from Skyline Vista on Johnson's Plateau or from Painted Canyon. [19] Daily measurements are taken by aiming the teleradiometer at fixed points on Bullion and Sentinel buttes south and west of Medora. From these readings, the NPS Air and Water Quality Division has begun to issue seasonal summaries of visibility which graph the results of the teleradiometer readings in terms of "standard visual range." [20]

Activities such as the teleradiometer measurements, and the general heightened interest in aesthetic management, helped the staff to make a final identification of the most important vistas in the park. After Theodore Roosevelt was designated a Class I area in 1977, the Environmental Protection Agency came out with regulations (40 Code of Federal Regulations 51.300 ff.) that gave the "federal land manager" (who, with respect to NPS, is the secretary of the interior) the opportunity to identify these prospects as "integral vistas." An integral vista is a view, originating within a Class I area but encompassing a specific landmark or panorama outside, which is deemed important to the experience of visitors. These EPA regulations would not have assured the protection of air quality within integral vistas; what they would have done was require state governments to include the vistas in their air quality implementation plans. The states would have then been compelled to weigh the costs and benefits of preventing visibility degradation within integral vistas as part of deciding whether to allow a new source of pollution whose output might affect them.

Using draft guidelines developed by NPS, the park's list of integral vistas (Table 5.1) was completed in 1980 and approved by the Rocky Mountain Regional Office and the Washington Office. In January and April 1981 it was published in the Federal Register for public comment and presented to the state of North Dakota. [21]

However, despite an internal "regulatory impact analysis" which showed that the benefits of officially publishing final lists of integral vistas would exceed the costs, in October 1985 the Department of the Interior announced that it would not make a final regulation designating such vistas. In declining to take up the extra territorial responsibility that integral vistas would have conferred on the National Park System, Secretary of the Interior Hodel cited the possibility of incurring the resentment of state governments and the likelihood of "prolonged litigation" over the final regulation. The Department emphasized that the scenic views contained within the integral vistas should be protected from degradation, but using existing regulatory programs to resolve any conflicts. [22]

Inappropriate man-made structures near the borders of the park are a second way visual debasement of the natural and historical scene can occur. At Theodore Roosevelt such intrusions are again largely attributable to recent energy exploration: drilling rigs, tank batteries, and pumps can be seen from any high ground. The damage their presence does to the visitor experience is subtle, but real. [23]

Hopes of controlling such intrusions have been based on creating a scenic buffer zone just outside the boundary in which no new surface industrial development would be allowed. NPS first negotiated for it with the Forest Service in 1974, the year the master plan for the Little Missouri National Grasslands was published. A great deal of confusion followed about whether a buffer zone had or had not been created.

The intent of USFS as evidenced in its plan seemed clear: it promised to map out a buffer zone where no activity which will detract from the values within the adjoining National Park, except for occupancy under [existing] oil and gas leases" would be allowed. [24] Maps contained in the final environmental impact statement to the National Grasslands plan showed a scenic control zone, which in turn was treated as a fait accompli by the park's 1975 Statement for Management. [25] Later correspondence between the local district of the Custer National Forest and Theodore Roosevelt referred to the buffer zone as having been definitely established. [26] Nevertheless, even though no new surface occupancy was allowed within the buffer zone, USFS permitted seismic testing to continue and issued new oil and gas leases as long as companies agreed to slant-drill into their parcels from outside the buffer zone. [27]

This is where the matter stood until 1982 when the Forest Service, responding to the surging interest in oil and gas leasing, published the Wannagan Roadless Area Oil and Gas Plan for its land abutting the Petrified Forest Plateau along the northwest boundary of the South Unit. The new plan indicated that surface occupancy for energy exploration and production would he allowed on land previously identified as part of the scenic buffer zone.

Commenting on the Wannagan plan in a letter to the Forest Service, Superintendent Harvey Wickware recalled to the USFS District Ranger's attention the language of the Little Missouri National Grasslands management plan, the maps showing a buffer zone, and the references in letters to a buffer zone and to a "no surface occupancy" rule. "We had thought that the Forest Service's 1974 Management Prescription for the Badlands Planning Unit [of the National Grasslands] afforded more protection to the zone of influence around Theodore Roosevelt National Park than is apparent from our review of the Wannagan (Roadless) Area Oil and Gas Plan," wrote Wickware.

We had assumed that we would have little concern about adverse development off the [northwest] corner of the South Unit since the area was designated essentially roadless, and Item D, page 42 of the Prescription did "not allow new surface occupancy beyond the latest date of expiration for existing leases". . . .

As you are aware, in 1978 Congress designated most of that area in the South Unit that lies west of the Little Missouri River as National Wilderness. The boundaries of this Wilderness adjoin the Wannagan Area for a distance of some 3.5 miles. . . . Our experience with oil and gas development at other locations in the vicinity of the park leads us to believe that development of the Wannagan Area to any degree can not but adversely affect the value of adjacent park lands that the National Park Service is pledged to protect. Any surface development within a mile or so of the [northwest] corner of the South Unit will distract from the visual experience of visitors in the Wilderness . . . .

The Plan you have prepared appears to be well conceived and well done with due consideration for the resource values that your agency and its policies call for. If the Plan were for an area some distance from the boundaries of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we would most likely not be obliged to fault it. However, the proposed development area's close proximity to the park makes the Plan for development unacceptable to the National Park Service.

"Therefore," he concluded, "unless we are misinterpreting the Wannagan Plan, there has been a reversal of the surface occupancy policy and the buffer zone referred to in other U. S. Forest Service planning documents no longer exists." [28]

The park staff does not now consider the USFS buffer zone to be valid. The draft version of the Natural Resources Management Plan recommends a formal agreement between the Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management to restrict new surface development, and perhaps even to gradually remove non-producing oil equipment, from publicly-held lands adjacent to Theodore Roosevelt. Establishing a meaningful buffer zone is a vital part of the park's proposed aesthetic management program. [29]

Conducting similar negotiations with owners of adjoining private land is more problematical, but the Service has had some success in persuading oil companies to camouflage their storage tanks by painting them earth tones or hiding them behind ridges. [30]

The visual effects of adjacent wells have even been felt at night. At the height of exploration in the badlands many producers were burning off excess natural gas at the well head. There was so much of this flaring that many nights the horizon was much brighter than its usual inky black. Light pollution has abated somewhat in the past few years as more wells have been connected to natural gas pipelines, but the park staff is still concerned about the problem. [31]

A far more serious consequence of flaring is the fouling of the park's fresh air by the odor of released hydrogen sulfide gas. Olfactory pollution is harder to document than most because it cannot be objectively measured and may persist only briefly. An overnight stay in a campground pervaded by a smell like rotten eggs would, however, be enough to convince anyone of the importance of olfaction to a pleasant visitor experience. [32]

The release of this "sour gas" so that it enters the park in concentrations noticeable by humans [33] is a violation of North Dakota's ambient air standards, intentionally set low enough to prevent "nuisance odors" associated with energy development. [34] But since the hydrogen sulfide is suspected to be a product of an aggregate of wells, control of its flaring falls outside the Class I PSD permit process—unless the current joint study by NPS and the North Dakota Department of Health can show that the aggregate is emitting enough to be considered a separate "point source." If that can be proven, these wells would have to find a place in the Class I PSD increment. [35]

One last component of the Rooseveltian scene is the remoteness of the badlands—arguably the main enticement Dakota Territory held for the young New Yorker, even greater than the prospect of bagging a buffalo. Of all the aesthetic qualities associated with the natural world, remoteness is perhaps the most difficult to assess. Whereas solitude is an individual experience, remoteness is an overarching quality making solitude possible. Remoteness still exists in the park, but the various encroachments discussed in this chapter have, collectively, diminished it. Inevitably, drilling for oil and gas has made the badlands as a whole less remote, and industrialization along the borders of the North and South units has, in effect, shrunken the size of the park in terms of the physical space in which visitors may now experience nature in an unimpaired state. [36]

As an example, until a few years ago the Elkhorn Ranch site was quite as remote as when Roosevelt made it his home ranch, his retreat where he could write and think and escape the incessant visitors to the Maltese Cross. Its remoteness was exactly the quality he most prized. Latter-day visitors to the Elkhorn were offered a rare chance not to merely sympathize with Roosevelt in the abstract, but to empathize with him by experiencing first hand the feelings he felt. As late as 1974, only one oil field existed between the North and South units, so the basic integrity of a trip to the Elkhorn was unchanged. But over the last decade heavy development in the immediate vicinity of the ranch site has destroyed the Elkhorn's remoteness as surely as if the connecting parkway (see Chapter 11) had been built. [37]

So, although the resources aesthetic management seeks to protect are often intangible or obscure, their loss can have a remarkable effect on the visitor experience.

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004