JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Halcyon Days Are Gone

In the halcyon days of the 1970s in North Dakota, when the state was a quieter, kinder, friendlier, more thoughtful place, the Legislature passed a bill, and the governor signed it, designating the Little Missouri River as our state’s only official State Scenic River and creating a commission to look out for it.

The Little Missouri Scenic River Commission did its job through the administrations of four governors who cared about the Bad Lands and its river — Art Link, Allen Olson, George Sinner and Ed Schafer — two Democrats and two Republicans. It met regularly, rerouted proposed pipelines to protect trees, kept gravel miners, oil drillers, seismologists and road builders out of the river valley, made sure oil wells and tank batteries were above the bluff line well away from the river and even passed rules regulating barbed-wire fences across the river.

Then came the administrations of John “Good-Paying Jobs Uber Alles” Hoeven and Jack Dalrymple, and the commission faded into obscurity. It ceased to meet, and its rules ceased to be enforced, and soon the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley began.

Oil wells started showing up on the riverbank, just yards from the river. The state engineer began issuing industrial water permits to take water from the river for fracking, in direct violation of the law (600 of them at last count). The roar of diesel trucks and jake brakes, and the steady thump, thump of one lung pumpjacks, echoed throughout the valley.

With the election of Doug Burgum, who was an easterner, but owned a Bad Lands ranch, there was some hope that the state’s only Scenic River might once again get some special attention at the highest levels of government. Didn’t happen. Oh, Burgum reformulated the commission, but then he asked it, as its first official act, to ratify a policy making it legal, for the first time in more than 40 years, to use Little Missouri State Scenic River water for industrial purposes — read: fracking. They did that this week.

The commission is an interesting mix of folks. By law, it is composed of six Bad Lands ranchers, one from each of the six Bad Lands counties, and three bureaucrats — the state engineer, the state health officer and the state parks director. For the first 25 years of its existence, it carried out its mission, with reasonable ranchers who really cared about the river valley, and dedicated state employees from the State Parks and Health Departments and state engineer’s office, teaming up to fulfill its mission, as outlined in Chapter 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code: “to maintain the scenic, historic, and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”

The law also says the commission “shall also have the power and duties of promulgating management policies to coordinate all activities within the confines of the Little Missouri River when such action is deemed necessary.”

One of the things they did with that authority, to help “maintain the recreation quality” of the river, was to adopt a fencing policy, which said that fences across the river “must have a gated opening of at least 8 feet.” They adopted that policy at a meeting in April 1995.

Now, I’ve been canoeing the Little Missouri for more than 40 years, and for the first 35 years, I rarely encountered a fence across the river. Once or twice in all those years. But a few years ago, Lillian and I canoed from the Logging Camp Ranch, south of Medora, into Medora, a trip we’ve done probably half a dozen times. And in that 40 or so river miles, we encountered eight fences across the river, none of which had gates. We were forced to get out and portage around every one of them. On about fence No. 6, I angrily vowed to bring a wire cutter with me the next time I canoed that stretch of the river. I cooled down after a couple of beers in Medora, and instead just decided to never canoe that stretch of the river again. And I haven’t. Which is too bad, since it is the stretch that goes around Bullion Butte, one of the nicest places on the entire river. Entire planet, for that matter.

Later, I asked a rancher down in that country why there were so many fences all of a sudden. He said, “Jim, neighbors don’t get along like they used to.”

Well, he’s right, of course. In the halcyon days, cattle along that stretch ran free and were rounded up and sorted in the spring for branding. Now, fences keep everyone’s herds separate.

I’m writing all this on the heels of this week’s Scenic River Commission meeting in Dickinson, at which the commission was asked to weigh in on three issues.

The first was Burgum’s policy of allowing for industrial use of water from the river for fracking. The policy was adopted by the State Water Commission, which Burgum chairs, about a year ago, but the Scenic River Commission mulled it over for a while before finally giving it the okay this week.

So instead of looking out for the river, maintaining its “scenic, historic and recreational qualities,” the first official action of the newly formed commission was to give its blessing to the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River. There are already approved industrial water permits at 10 ranches on the river right now. Who knows how many there will be in a year, or five years.

The second was a request for support for the new bridge across the Little Missouri River north of Medora. The group discussed it for more than an hour before commission member Gene Allen from Beach made a motion to support the “no-build” alternative laid out in the Environmental Impact Statement, which would have put the commission on record as opposing the new bridge. That brought Billings County Commission chairman Jim Arthaud roaring from the audience to the front of the room, where he took over the meeting and said in no uncertain terms that Billings County needed and deserved the bridge.

Well, after more discussion, the motion failed on a 5-3 vote, with only Allen, Slope County rancher John Hanson and Parks Director Melissa Baker voting in favor of it.  Then there was silence while commission chairman Joe Schettler, Dunn County’s representative on the commission waited for a motion to support the bridge. No motion was forthcoming. So, after a long pause, Schettler recessed the meeting for a bathroom break. So the commission took no position on the bridge.

The third was a discussion of the illegal bridge already built over the river in Dunn County by Wylie Bice, which I wrote about the other day. After some discussion, the group decided that since the bridge is already there, not much can be done about it. So they gave it tacit approval.

But the discussion turned to the idea that it was actually the Corps of Engineers fault the bridge was there because they signed off on the bridge but hadn’t checked with the Bureau of Land Management, on whose land the bridge is located, to see if it was OK with them. So the group passed a motion to send a letter to the Corps asking them to please share information on things like this.

I found it a bit ironic that a bunch of conservative ranchers were urging the government agencies to share personal information with each other. Guess it depends on the situation.

So now, the commission moves on to other things — what other things I am not sure. It’s an interesting group. The county representatives are appointed by the county commissioners. They must be ranchers who live on the river, except for the Golden Valley County representative (lawyer Gene Allen from Beach). (Golden Valley is one of the Bad Lands counties even though the river doesn’t flow through it.)

A couple of them take their responsibility to protect the river seriously. More of them are there to protect their county’s economic interests by not letting environmental protection get in the way of the industry that fuels their county’s economy — oil. The chairman himself has an industrial water permit and sells water from the river to the frackers. To be fair, he hasn’t been voting on these things, saying he will only vote to break a tie.

State Parks director Melissa Baker is there to protect the river. State Engineer Garland Erbele is there to do what engineers do — build things. He’s no friend of the river. The Health Department is represented by Dave Glatt, head of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. He’s a lackey for the energy industry, Burgum’s worst appointment to date, who can’t be trusted to stick up for the river. He voted FOR the industrial water permit policy and AGAINST the motion to oppose the new bridge in Billings County, even though it has the potential to be the worst environmental problem ever to face the river if the oil trucks start crossing through the valley by the hundreds, or thousands, as the county has predicted. I told him after Monday’s meeting that, as the state’s top environmental officer, he ought to be ashamed of himself.

So what we’ve got, I was moaning to a friend of mine who knows these issues, is what we asked for: an active Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. I guess we have to be more careful about what we ask for. It’s just a rubber stamp for the energy industry, I complained to my friend. And that is bad because their approval of things like industrial water permits and bridges (and who knows what else in the future) gives those who would abuse the Little Missouri State Scenic River the credibility of having been approved and endorsed by an official state government commission.

A couple of years ago I began writing about the need to reactivate the commission. I really, really wanted to bring it back and put it to work protecting the river from industrial development. I remember those halcyon days when the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission members really, really cared about the river. And I really, really long for those days again, I told my friend.

“Jim,” he said, “things are different now. You need to lower your expectations.”

I guess.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Of Cougars, Dipshits And Teddy Roosevelt

When was the last time someone called you a dipshit? I swear, I hadn’t heard that word in 20 years, or maybe 30 or 40, until this week, when somebody called me that in a comment at the bottom of my blog.

I remember it as a word we used back in the 1950s or ’60s, to describe someone we didn’t like, most often a bully who would pound us bloody if he heard us calling him that. It was generally a word reserved for someone we really, really disliked.

I can remember my sister, Laurelle, shortening it to “dip” back in junior high or early high school, talking about some creepy guy as in, “He’s a real dip,” because she’d never have used the word shit in a sentence. That was then. She’s matured some since.

My favorite dictionary, the Urban Dictionary, defines it as “A despised person; a moron; an ineffectual person; one with a habit of being wrong, loudly and often.” OK.

So then why did this person who used the name “Waynean” in a comment on my blog say, “Hey, dipshit, couldn’t read the article but scanned quickly. I was too disgusted by your misspelling of Badlands throughout. It’s one word. There is no alternate spelling/wording. You are a disgrace to North Dakota.”

Ouch. A disgrace to North Dakota. I don’t think I’ve ever been called that, either. That’s worse than dipshit.

I don’t know who this person might be, but they use the handle “kasotacougar” in their e-mail address. As in kasotacougar@ … Now I know Kasota is a town in Minnesota, and as I puzzled over that, I recalled hearing that there is a new definition for “cougar” these days, one that is not a mountain lion in the North Dakota Bad Lands. Back to the Urban Dictionary:

“Cougar: An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man. The cougar can be anyone from an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim, to an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister, to a real hottie or milf. Cougars are gaining in popularity — particularly the true hotties — as young men find not only a sexual high, but many times a chick with her shit together. “That cougar I met last night, showed me shit I didn’t know existed, I’m goin’ back for more.” (milf, by the way, the Urban Dictionary says, means “Mother I’d Like (to), well, you know)

Well. I guess you’re never too old to learn something new.

So I’m figuring Waynean is a fake name for a woman on the make from Minnesota who somehow found my blog and didn’t like the way I spelled Bad Lands. WTF? I hope she knows I’m almost 70 years old.

Which brings me back to matters at hand. Let’s talk about Bad Lands. Badlands. badlands. How should it be spelled?

Anyone who’s been reading my blog for the last eight years knows that I prefer Bad Lands. Two words. Capitalized. And that’s what the hottie from Minnesota took exception to. So let’s talk about it. Let’s go back to 1986.

In 1986, I was the North Dakota Tourism director and my friend, Tracy Potter, carried the title deputy tourism director, but was actually much more than that. (I was a figurehead and the public face of an “industry” trying to establish its credibility as an important piece of the state’s economy. Tracy was the brains behind the face.) One day, Tracy came into my office and dropped a proof of a brochure on my desk and said “It should be Bad Lands. Two words. Both capitalized.”

Until that moment, I had given little thought to that. In my world, I guess, I had always just thought of it as one word. Badlands. I think that was because the official government spelling of it was badlands. Sometimes, capitalized, sometimes not. As in Badlands National Park, the one in the other Dakota. If you go to the website for Badlands National Park, you’ll find this:

“Why is it called the Badlands?

“The Lakota people were the first to call this place ‘mako sica’ or ‘land bad.’ Extreme temperatures, lack of water and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. In the early 1900s, French-Canadian fur trappers called it ‘les mauvais terres pour traverse,’ or “bad lands to travel through.”

“Today, the term badlands has a more geologic definition. Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded in a dry climate. The park’s typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges is a premier example of badlands topography.”

And that made it official. Thus spake the U.S. government.

But do you see what they did there? As they told us what the Indians and the trappers called it, the word “bad” is an adjective. “Land bad.” “Bad lands to travel through.” That’s what those who were here before the government was here said. These are some baaad lands, look out for them. Hard to get through them. They were bad. BAD!

And then they just slipped in badlands in the next sentence as one word, a noun. Boo. Hiss. There’s no justification for that. A “geologic definition.” Yes, badlands happen when Mother Nature does her job. Badlands are the new topography, after millions of years of Mother Nature being at work. OK South Dakota, you can have Badlands National Park. But Tracy was right. Up here we got some Bad Lands. Don’t believe me? Just try to travel through them.

Looking back, now, I don’t recall if we ever established a firm policy in our travel literature. We used two words when we thought we could get away with it. The National Park Service out in Medora, following the lead from its sister park down south, used one word. So did the folks at Gold Seal, who ran the Medora attractions. We dabbled from time to time with two words, but newspapers and school books and CVB’s and the government using one word outnumbered us.

I think we were at least successful in getting everyone to capitalize it, but for the most part, it remained Badlands. One word. Still used by the North Dakota Tourism Division today. (I went to the Tourism Division’s website and entered “Bad Lands” under their search button. The website responded “No results available.” But when I typed “badlands” I got 28 results, everything from the Bully Pulpit Golf Course to the Lone Butte Guest Ranch. Case closed.

Still …

There are some things worth fighting for. My friend, Ed Schafer, and I have been jousting about it for years. He says Badlands. I say tomahto. Problem is, there’s no one with more credibility to declare what the official word for North Dakota’s top tourist destination shall be called. Ed was, after all, governor, the Tourism Director’s boss. He was also Secretary of Agriculture, the boss of, among other agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, which manages our state’s million acres of grasslands, most of it in the, er, Bad Lands, or Badlands. And he’s the scion of the Schafer Family that gave us Medora, the shining star of the, er, Bad Lands, or Badlands. And chairman of the board of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. Big timber. I concede to his decree, with a smile. One word. Officially, Badlands.

I wanted to use A.T. Packard’s 1884 newspaper as an example of why we should use Bad Lands, but he didn’t even know how to spell Cowboy.

Still …

I’m not going to quit using two words. Here’s why:

I’ve got Teddy Roosevelt on my side.

Our 26th president, who we North Dakotans claim as one of our own, who lived and ranched here and who said he would never have been president were it not for his time here, ALWAYS used two words. Bad Lands.

Roosevelt was our writingest president. And probably the subject of more books than any other president. Our library here at 920 Arthur Drive gives him his own shelf. So do many libraries in the state, in the country, in the world.


“My own ranches, the Elkhorn and the Chimney Butte, lie along the eastern border of the cattle country, where the Little Missouri flows through the heart of the Bad Lands.” — “Hunting Trips of a Ranchman,” by Theodore Roosevelt.

“Occasionally it is imperatively necessary to cross some of the worst parts of the Bad Lands with a wagon, and such a trip is exhausting and laborious beyond belief.” — “Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail” by Theodore Roosevelt.

“When in the Bad Lands of the Western Dakotas the late September breezes grow cold …” “Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter” by Theodore Roosevelt.

I’ve just pulled three sentences from three of his books, but be assured he made a conscious decision, throughout every one of his books and in his personal correspondence, to use Bad Lands — two words, capitalized.

And his biographers said, “If it’s good enough for TR, it’s good enough for me.”

“The train stirred, gained momentum, and was gone, having accomplished its immediate mission, which was to deposit a New York ‘dude’ politician and would-be hunter named Theodore Roosevelt, in the Bad Lands of Dakota.” — “Roosevelt in the Bad Lands” by Hermann Hagedorn.

“Theodore’s interest in the Dakota Bad Lands probably began with Commander Henry Honeychurch Gorringe, the former naval officer .…” — “Mornings on Horseback” by David McCullough.

“On November 16, a spell of ‘white weather’ settled down over the Bad Lands, as Roosevelt left his southern ranch and headed north to the Elkhorn.” — “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris (winner of the Pulitzer Prize).

Here’s a 1925 poster advertising a trip to the Bad Lands, before the government got all snooty and decided it should be Badlands. Poster courtesy of the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.

I don’t know to this day how we spurned the greatest resident, ever, of the North Dakota Bad Lands, Theodore Roosevelt, and gave the greatest and best part of our state a geologic name, badlands, instead of the dramatic name it deserves: Bad Lands.

And I’m sticking with it. Ed and I will continue to disagree and laugh about it, but I’m just a blogger who’s a bit too big for his britches, and I know that no one really cares if I choose to go my own way. Including Ed. Well, except for that cougar over in Minnesota who thinks I’m a dipshit.

By the way: Is dipshit one word, or two?