One of the thrills for many people in North Dakota has been to visit the Elkhorn Ranch of former President Teddy Roosevelt in the Badlands along the Little Missouri River. While long listed as one of the “11 most endangered historic places” in the nation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Elkhorn Ranch was the beloved location where Roosevelt hunted, bred cattle and began his writings on conservation. Although the government U.S. Forest Service purchased 4,400 acres, including the ranch, in 2007 as part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, it did not acquire the mineral rights. Now, over the intense objections of Roger Lothspeich, owner of Elkhorn Minerals, intended to mine gravel and destroy much of the area around the historic site. In response to a national outcry from historians and hunters, Lothspeich said “There is a lot of gravel to mine. I will keep on mining year after year, for years to come, and will not stop until I get all the gravel. That’s the type of individual I am. I just don’t give up.”
Whatever “type of individual” Lothspeich may be, it does not include a respect for history or conservation. He simply wants the gravel and the profits and has made it clear that he does not care about anyone or anything else.
The site itself lies within Theodore Roosevelt National Park but, the surrounding lands are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service. The U.S. Forest Service approved the mining project and now historians, conservationists and hunters have gone to court to try to stop it through a preliminary injunction. They are arguing that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act in its approval of the environmental assessment, particularly given the distinction of the site as one of the “11 most endangered historic places” in the nation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Roosevelt was 26 when he established the ranch in 1884 and originally came to the Badlands in September 1883 to hunt buffalo. The ranch would help him recover emotionally from the loss of his wife and his mother who died on the same day. He also forged his vision for conservation in the United States and the national park system.
Lothspeich however has been unmoved by pleas from different groups: “I have the right to mine my gravel. It’s legal. It’s constitutional.”