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Board delays oil leases on western North Dakota lands

BISMARCK - A dozen tracts of land in pristine pockets of the North Dakota Badlands have been spared from leasing to oil and gas developers - at least for awhile.

BISMARCK - A dozen tracts of land in pristine pockets of the North Dakota Badlands have been spared from leasing to oil and gas developers - at least for awhile.

At the request of wildlife advocates and state game and fish officials, the state land board decided Thursday to withdraw the tracts from a Feb. 7 auction of mineral leases on public lands.

The action is intended to allow time to see whether some arrangements can be made, such as land or mineral rights swaps, to spare areas in roadless areas from development.

Altogether, the 13 areas of land add up to 1,683.6 acres, most of them in 160-acre parcels. Mineral leases for those tracts were withdrawn from the February sale, but will be considered in May.

The North Dakota chapter of The Wildlife Society and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department had submitted separate lists seeking to withdraw a combined 5,344 acres from mineral leasing.

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"The board thought that was too much to withdraw from the 73,000 acres," said Mike McEnroe, a member of The Wildlife Society, referring to the total acreage of public lands set for the mineral leasing auction block next month.

"It's a mixed bag," McEnroe said, referring to the partial success of efforts to spare pristine areas from development.

Lance Gaebe, commissioner of state lands, said the five-member land board, which includes Gov. Jack Dalrymple, was frustrated the wildlife advocates added to their original list of tracts to be spared.

The expanded list arrived the day before Thursday's land board meeting.

"They just could not go along with that," Gaebe said.

McEnroe and Greg Link, chief of conservation and communications for Game and Fish, said they only became aware the areas were slated for leasing a short time before Thursday's board meeting and rushed to identify sensitive areas important to wildlife, including big horn sheep, sage grouse and mule deer.

"We were all scrambling to figure things out," Link said.

But state lands officials now plan to notify Game and Fish officials in advance of planned lease auctions, so they can scan the list and flag areas of concern.

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The notification process would be similar to one now followed with the North Dakota Geological Survey and the State Historical Society of North Dakota, which monitor leasing to protect archeological and historic sites.

The areas of concern were within an area of about 9,000 acres in Billings and Golden Valley counties set aside by agreement with federal officials to maintain as roadless areas, which would make them eligible to be protected as wilderness.

Because of confusion in matching legal descriptions of tracts to map locations, two of four roadless tracts were missed, McEnroe said. He and Link hope to have those spared and will follow up with land officials.

"There was a lot of good discussion about the value of that area," Link said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENT
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