James Macpherson  /  AP
Kenneth and Norma Eberts are seen on part of their ranch near Medora, N.D. The ranch was once used by Teddy Roosevelt to graze cattle and the Eberts would like to preserve it, but some neighbors oppose the federal government owning even more local land.
updated 2/14/2006 8:47:11 AM ET 2006-02-14T13:47:11

More than 30 wildlife and conservation groups, including one that Theodore Roosevelt started more than a century ago, are pressing Congress to approve the purchase of land near where the former president ranched in North Dakota’s western Badlands.

The land being offered comprises 5,150 acres of hills and buttes, traversed by the Little Missouri River. Roosevelt’s cattle grazed on the land, which is near one of the two ranches he owned in North Dakota.

“To the conservation community, this is sacred ground,” said Lowell Baier, executive vice president of the Boone and Crockett Club, started by Roosevelt in 1887. “This is where the whole concept of conservation in North America was born. The (goal) is to maintain it in a manner that is consistent with the way Theodore Roosevelt experienced it.”

His place to recover
Roosevelt, who was president from 1901 to 1909, set aside millions of acres for national forests and wildlife refuges during his administration. He came to the Badlands after a personal tragedy in the 1880s.

“It was where he was able to recover from the huge double blow of losing both his wife and his mother (to separate illnesses) on St. Valentine’s Day,” said his great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV, a New York investment banker.

Ken and Norma Eberts say the ranch is worth more than $3.5 million. A U.S. Senate subcommittee is considering legislation to allow the Forest Service to begin acquisition by reallocating $1.45 million within its present budget.

Dave Pieper, a Forest Service supervisor in Bismarck, said more federal money would be needed, but the amount is not known because an appraisal hasn’t been completed.

“The opportunity for us in North Dakota to acquire (the land) and preserve and protect it for future generations is, in our view, quite an opportunity,” Pieper said.

Some local opposition
However, it is opposed by some local officials, who resent federal land ownership in the area.

“We just kind of feel that the Forest Service and the federal government own enough land in North Dakota,” said Devils Lake farmer Eric Aasmundstad, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau.

Jim Arthaud, chairman of the Billings County Commission, said the commission also opposes the purchase because Billings County is 50 percent federally owned already. The 1.1 million-acre Little Missouri National Grasslands, which is administered by the Forest Service, covers much of the county.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said the Forest Service has agreed to sell an equal number of acres in North Dakota to balance the acquisition and to assure continued grazing and other uses on the Eberts property, including hunting and oil and gas production.

Arthaud said the county does not object to preserving about 700 acres of Eberts’ land directly across from the cabin site on Roosevelt’s Elkhorn ranch. However, even if the Forest Service sells off 5,150 acres elsewhere in the state so it can buy the entire Eberts property, “you’ve still lost a family unit,” he said.

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