Written by Jim Fuglie
(Cross-posted, with permission, from The Prairie Blog.)
A short history lesson on the Little Missouri National Grasslands of western North Dakota.
For thousands of years Indian nations hunted and thrived on the grasslands. A spiritual tie to the land based on Indian beliefs developed and is still honored today. However, as America pushed west, the grasslands became home to new settlers in the form of homesteads. It was U.S. government homesteading policy that encouraged these people to settle the prairie.
These new homesteaders tilled the land and raised crops to “prove up” the land for ownership. But when drought came in the 1930s, crops shriveled and the fragile, exposed soil blew. The “Dust Bowl Era” drove people away from the land and devastated local economies.
The homestead policy wasn’t always compatible with available land. Drought, temperature extremes, insects and fire played a significant role on the prairie. The grasslands could not sustain large-scale farming, but the land would grow grass in most years. With government help, farmers became ranchers and some of the natural processes that sustained the prairie throughout time began to take hold once again.
In an effort to add economic stability to failing local economies, the U.S. government began buying private lands, under programs called Land Utilization Projects. What began as a program to purchase and develop submarginal land, gradually evolved and expanded into a program designed to transfer land to its most suitable use: ranching.
Much history remains to be written about the national grasslands. These lands can help people maintain a quality of life, both for the people who live and work on these lands, and for the people interested in spending time visiting these American treasures. People come to the grasslands not only to seek solitude, but also to teach their children how to canoe, to camp, or to hunt – to appreciate nature. The potential for outdoor recreation to help sustain local economies is great, as is the potential to continue the tradition of providing our children and future generations with special places to develop an appreciation for the natural resources of the country.
Those words come from the U.S. Forest Service’s Record of Decision on use of the million-acre Little Missouri National Grasslands in western North Dakota’s Bad Lands, written in 2002 by Bradley Powell, Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service. Powerful words and an insightful analysis by a mid-level federal employee who obviously had found his calling in life.
Take serious note of the last line of that introduction, and its use of the phrase “special places.” Go back and look at that last sentence. Because you’re going to continue to hear, over the next few months, that phrase “Special Places” in the context of what the North Dakota Industrial Commission may or may not do to begin an awareness program that will recognize that there are pieces of land in North Dakota—even very small pieces—on which we should not drill an oil well. If the North Dakota news media does its job, and those of us who watch both the Industrial Commission and the news media do ours, and the public responds to what they read, see and hear in the media, then the Industrial Commission is going to have to follow through on something they’ve been talking about for almost a year now. They’ve crossed the River Rubicon. Now they must take at least a first tentative step on shore to see what lies there.
It all began about a year ago, when someone, I think it was Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, said at an Industrial Commission meeting last January that perhaps it is time to make a list of places should get some consideration beyond rubber-stamp approval when a drilling permit application is received which might impact them. Then, in May, Jack Dalrymple (perhaps feeling a little cabin fever on a much warmer day than that one back in January on which Stenehjem spoke up) proposed the Industrial Commission take a tour of some of those places.
What prompted Dalrymple’s suggestion was a letter the Commission had received from a group of conservation organizations that said, in part, “We strongly urge you to identify special places of natural and cultural importance that are deserving of protection, like the Elkhorn Ranch and lands adjacent to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and implement regulations to deny oil and gas development in those areas.” (Emphasis mine.) The letter was signed by representatives of the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Badlands Conservation Alliance, the Dakota Resource Council, the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club, The Environmental Law and Policy Center, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Parks Conservation Association. An impressive group.
It’s the first time, I think, that the term “Special Places” was attached to the idea of protecting some areas of the state from oil development, and it is a phrase that has stuck. It has been the subject of much discussion. Discussion. But no action.
After getting some big headlines, and kudos in newspaper editorials, Dalrymple changed his mind and said that busy government officials just couldn’t find time in their schedules for such a tour. He did take a little one-day pilgrimage himself in August, and held a press conference with a dramatic Bad Lands background, but has proposed no action. Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring just blows the issue off, saying “all of North Dakota is special.” Stenehjem, though, has been a bit dogged in his determination to see SOMETHING done, and we might see the beginnings of a list and a special new rule for an approval process for drilling permits come before the Commission next month. It will be interesting to see if he can convince Dalrymple and Goehring that any new rules are necessary.
Earlier this month, I posted here, and sent to the Attorney General, my list of “Special Places.” For the most part, they involve public land, because sometime in the past, someone in a leadership position in government recognized that they had some important scenic, agricultural, historical, archeological, paleontological, recreational or environmental value and saw to it that they became publicly owned. Many of them are located in or near the million-acre Little Missouri National Grasslands which Forester Powell was writing about in his Record of Decision.
A Record of Decision is essentially a plan for the use of federally owned lands, and the process used to write that plan is painfully slow because it pauses, along the way to completion, for numerous public input sessions (something the North Dakota Industrial Commission has studiously avoided). The land, after all, belongs to all the people of the United States. We entrust its care, in this case, to the U.S. Forest Service, but the Forest Service must care for it the way we want it cared for.
Another short history lesson. The land purchase by the government that Powell refers to was specifically an effort to help keep ranchers on the land in western North Dakota during the “Dirty 30’s.” Generally what happened is that a rancher kept ownership of the “home place,” anywhere from a quarter section to a couple of sections, and sold the rest to the government, which then leased it back to the rancher, generally for pennies on the dollar. The cash infusion to the rancher from the sale of his land allowed him to pay some bills (maybe the mortgage on the home place) and remain on the land during those awful Dust Bowl days. In North Dakota, the government bought up about a million acres, and leased it all back to the ranchers for grazing cattle. Today, most of those ranches remain intact (thanks to what many term embarrassingly low grazing fees on the federal lands), either from having been passed down in the family to sons and daughters, or through sale to newcomers who wanted to be Bad Lands ranchers. For the most part, the ranchers who use our public lands now to sustain their operations have been pretty good caretakers. For the most part, it is a government program that has worked the way it was intended.
But because those million acres are publicly owned, there have been some restrictions placed on them over the years. The Grasslands Management Plan that came about as a result of that Record of Decision requires the National Grasslands to be managed under a “multiple-use” concept. In addition to allowing for ranchers to run their cattle, the Forest Service manages the land for outdoor recreation and mineral development, as well as habitat for wildlife and healthy, diverse vegetation. That was a land use policy championed by Theodore Roosevelt, who created the U.S. Forest Service during his presidency, and believed that each acre the government owned ought to be put to its best use—commercial, industrial, residential, agricultural or recreational.
Because of that policy (Roosevelt coined the phrase “wise use” to describe it), it wasn’t so long ago that half a million acres of the National Grasslands in North Dakota were still pretty much in a pristine state, used only for the grazing of cattle and recreation. Those were the wisest uses of the National Grasslands in North Dakota. That’s changed since we discovered they are underlain with oil. All but about 50,000 acres of the million acres of National Grasslands—about 95 per cent—is now leased for oil development. Wise use? Well, in some cases, with proper reclamation laws, I’d guess so. But there probably are some places where oil development is not the best use. And so there are efforts underway to protect that remaining 50,000 acres permanently, which I have written about before.
Soon, the drilling rigs are going to march south, across the Missouri River and its great Lake Sakakawea, and into the National Grasslands, an area we more commonly call the North Dakota Bad Lands and the Missouri Slope. And that’s where you’ll find most of the “Special Places” on anyone’s list for which the North Dakota Industrial Commission is being asked to provide protection.
Theodore Roosevelt recognized long ago, when he created the Forest Service, that there was a need to develop a “wise use” policy for millions of acres of “special places” in America. Forester Powell reaffirmed that in his Record of Decision for our own National Grasslands here in North Dakota. Now we just need to encourage our own Industrial commission to follow Roosevelt and Powell’s lead.
Let me ask you just one more time to join with the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Badlands Conservation Alliance, the Dakota Resource Council, the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club, The Environmental Law and Policy Center, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Parks Conservation Association in urging the North Dakota Industrial Commission, at its next meeting in December, to adopt its list of “Special Places,” and a process for dealing with oil and gas drilling permit applications that impact them. Remind them of Forester Powell’s words, worth sharing one more time:
These lands can help people maintain a quality of life, both for the people who live and work on these lands, and for the people interested in spending time visiting these American treasures. People come to the grasslands not only to seek solitude, but also to teach their children how to canoe, to camp, or to hunt – to appreciate nature. The potential for outdoor recreation to help sustain local economies is great, as is the potential to continue the tradition of providing our children and future generations with special places to develop an appreciation for the natural resources of the country.
American Treasures. Perhaps an even better phrase than Special Places.
Written by Chet
Those of you who don't follow us on the Facebook missed a bit of a discussion about whether Craig Cobb and his redneck buddy were properly arrested last weekend. The Bismarck Tribune's story was entitled "Cobb taken into custody for toting guns in Leith." My Facebook comment suggested "Toting Guns" is not a crime in North Dakota. I stand by that.
But that's apparently not what Cobb and his buddy were arrested for. I'm not a regular reader of the Tribune or its website, so I don't know whether they've written a correction to their misleading story title, if not the entire story. I thought I'd fill in the gaps.
Craig Cobb is not charged with "Gun Toting." He's charged with seven (7) counts of "terrorizing" in violation of North Dakota Century Code section 12.1-17-04. a Class C felony. The maximum penalty for a person convicted of a Class C felony in North Dakota is up to five years in prison, a fine of ten thousand dollars, or both. The complaint alleges there is a mandatory minimum two (2) year sentence (with no parole) for a conviction under NDCC § 12.1-32-02.1. NDCC § 12.1-32-02.1 sets mandatory minimum sentences for "armed offenders." It sets the minimum at two (2) years for armed offenders who commit Class C felonies.
I'll walk you through the seven terrorizing counts, summarizing my perceptions of what they're about, with a very brief analysis. At the end of this, I'll provide a link to the actual criminal Complaint so you can read it for yourself. Maybe you'll disagree with my characterizations and/or analysis.
Count 1: On November 16th, 2013, Cobb allegedly walked up to the property of Leland Cook "in a terrorizing manner" with a loaded, long-barreled weapon. Cobb's finger was on the trigger. Cobb watched Cook installing a security system on his property. There is no indicating this count involves any kind of verbal threat, "gun-levelling," trespass or other noted behavior. I don't see any clear indication from the Complaint as to what constituted Cobb's "terrorizing manner."
Count 2: On November 16, 2013, Cobb allegedly walked up to the property of Leland Cook "in a terrorizing manner" with a loaded, long-barreled weapon. Cobb "continued" watching Cook install the security system while Cobb's finger was on the trigger. This count also mentions that another party -- Gregory Bruce -- was with Cook. Otherwise it appears to be a repeat of Count 1. Again, no indication here as to what Cobb did that was done in a "terrorizing manner."
Count 3: On November 16, 2013, Cobb allegedly followed "Miller Ferrie" along a road to her home while carrying a loaded, long barreled weapon. Cobb allegedly followed Ferrie until she reached her home.
Count 4: On November 16, 2013, Cobb allegedly walked up to the home of Paul and Miller Ferrie and stood outside while holding a loaded, long-barreled weapon. This count alleges that at one point, Cobb "did raise the weapon from a vertical position to a horizontal position." Cobb is alleged to have had his gun "at the 'ready position' as he stated 'I'm not shooting you, am I? Fuck you." (My apologies for Cobb's language.)
Count 5: On November 16, 2013, Cobb is alleged to have approached "Barry Striegel in a terrorizing manner with a gun slung over his shoulder." Again, as with all the other counts, there are no specifics provided to explain what constituted the "terrorizing manner" of Cobb.
Count 6: On November 16, 2013, Cobb is alleged to have "approached Akriti Haberstroh in her vehicle in Leith, while screaming obscenities at her and wielding a cane at her in a threatening manner."
Count 7: On November 16, 2013, Cobb is alleged to have approached "Bethany Haberstroh, a passenger in a vehicle driven by her daughter, Akriti Haberstroh" while screaming the aforementioned obscenities and wielding the cane "at them" in a threatening manner.
Click here to read the Complaint
Law enforcement also provided two separate affidavits in support of the Complaint. You can read the affidavit of Grant County Sheriff Steve Bay by clicking here, and the affidavit of Deputy Garrett Harding by clicking here.
I still don't know, guys. I definitely still think this Cobb character is an ass. But being an ass isn't a crime. I'm still not sure whether anything Cobb is accused of in this Complaint -- based upon the information provided in the Complaint and in the affidavits -- is or should be enough to send a guy away to the penitentiary for a mandatory-minimum two year sentence. Once again, there may be more to these charges and these allegations. But thus far I just don't see a C Felony in what's been alleged.
Let's be clear: this is a "terrorizing" case; it is not a "gun" case. There does not appear to be anything in the "gun" chapter of the North Dakota Century Code -- Chapter 62.1 -- that prohibits Cobb from doing anything he did in Leith. That's why Cobb isn't charged with a gun crime. You might not like what he did -- walking around town with loaded long-barrel guns -- but that doesn't make it illegal. It might be illegal in some other town, but -- unless there's a city ordinance to the contrary -- it doesn't appear to be illegal in Leith.
Based upon what I've seen so far, these charges look to me like law enforcement may be trying to get a conviction for "anticipated attempt to commit terrorizing." But that's not a crime. I don't know that they have sufficient evidence to show that Cobb terrorized people. It doesn't appear he attempted to terrorize. I think everybody is anticipating he is going to attempt to terrorize people, and so that fear of what he might do is scaring them. But I don't know that a person should be convicted of a felony based upon other peoples' fear of that person, and not on the conduct (and specific intent) of the accused person.
I'm guessing the folks in Leith are pretty scared of this guy. But that doesn't mean that -- until they pass a city ordinance making it illegal to do so -- Cobb can't walk around with a loaded long-barreled gun in their town if he wants to. Following in someone's path isn't a crime. There's no indication he was chasing anybody. He said "Fuck you" to someone. Still not a crime. Telling someone you're "not shooting" them isn't a crime. "Levelling a gun" isn't necessarily terrorizing. (That depends on whether you're leveling it AT someone, I think.) I'm not sure how waving a cane around and using obscenities is terrorizing. I suppose it could be, depending on what he was saying. But they really don't tell us what he was saying. (Read Sheriff Bay's affidavit, and you'll see Cobb apparently thought these people were trying to run over his dog, and that's why he was using obscenities. I might swear at someone if I thought they were trying to run over my dog, too.)
I totally understand how people could perceive this is a legitimate effort to stop these awful people before they hurt someone. But, generally, our legal system isn't set up to anticipate when someone is going to commit a crime and then throw them in prison to try to stop them from commiting the crime when there isn't any evidence they had done a crime yet.
I could be wrong. What I'm writing here may be unpopular with some of you. That's fine. (Sorry.) I trust someone will tell me if I am completely wrong here. But I'm trying to look at this from the perspective of someone who doesn't want innocent people convicted of crimes, and whose job it is to protect against that.
Again, it appears these people are terrible people. I just haven't yet been convinced they committed the crime they're accused of committing. I'm still open to the possibility there's more to one or all of these allegations. I'm just not seeing it in the affidavits or the Complaint.
Again, I'd welcome others' input on this. I'd like to be told I'm missing something here by someone who knows more than I do. Have at it.
Written by Jim Fuglie
(Cross-posted, with permission, from The Prairie Blog.)
I’m beginning to think that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem might just be ready to really start looking at oil and gas drilling permit applications instead of just giving them blanket approval at monthly meetings of the North Dakota Industrial Commission. That would be the best news to come out of the Oil Patch since fracking was invented.
Stenehjem and some in the conservation community coined the phrase “special places” last May after a couple of controversial permit applications made a lot of news and noise. The first was approval of an application to drill 8 wells near the Killdeer Mountains, in an area that residents and historians felt was “culturally significant.” The other was an application, later withdrawn after media exposure, to drill a well next to the Elkhorn Ranch. Stenehjem said it might be a good idea to make a list of some of the areas that needed to get special consideration when permits are issued. Jack Dalrymple agreed that it might be a good idea to come up with that list, and even go on a little tour to see some of them. Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring nodded.
That was six months ago. Since then, a couple thousand permits have been issued with still no formal procedure in place to see if they might be for places that really shouldn’t have an oil well. But there’s been activity on “making a list” on a couple of fronts. Jack Dalrymple went to Little Missouri State Park, where the Commission had already issued a number of drilling permits, and held a press conference to say that he was concerned about issuing drilling permits in places like Little Missouri State Park. Uh huh. And Stenehjem convened a panel of people whose opinions he respected and asked them for advice, but once the news media found out about it, he unconvened the panel.
But as the media (and bloggers) stayed with the story, Stenehjem’s been using some interesting language lately in news stories, where phrases like “extraordinary places that also will include the Little Missouri River and Bullion Butte,” “requirements spelled out in administrative rules,” “requiring pipe placement to avoid flaring natural gas,” and “formal procedure.”
And the latest story in the newspapers says he is going to make some kind of proposal at a December 19 Industrial Commission meeting. All of those reports give those of us concerned about rampant, unrestrained drilling cause for some hope. I’ve been about as critical of the Industrial Commission and its members as anyone, but I’ve never felt it was good to just be critical, without offering some alternative. So last week I sent to Stenehjem my ideas for how the Industrial Commission could begin to examine each drilling permit application and make a decision based on information provided to them by their own state government agencies.
I’m not the only one to do this. Others have also proposed ideas for actual administrative rules, perhaps the ones Stenehjem is referring to, which would require that staff with expertise on the scenic, agricultural, historical, archeological, paleontological, recreational and environmental values of land proposed for oil and gas drilling sign off on permits before they are approved. That would be the best of all possible worlds.
So I’m just going to share with you the proposal I sent to the Attorney General. This is only one idea. I think it would be good if he heard from a lot of people between now and December 19, so please send him yours as well. There’s a nice lady in his office named Liz Brocker who takes e-mails at email@example.com and passes them on to Wayne. I think he reads them. So please let him know what you think as well. There are a whole lot of “special places” in western North Dakota that will thank you. Here’s what I sent to Stenehjem.
SPECIAL PLACES IN WESTERN NORTH DAKOTA
The reality of the Bakken Boom is this: We now have somewhere around nine thousand oil wells in North Dakota, a number which is growing rapidly, on our way to 40 or 50 thousand. The best sites have been cherry picked for ease of access to oil and avoidance of public criticism. There is going to be more and more pressure on permitting agencies to allow development in more sensitive areas as the boom progresses.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission, which grants drilling permits, has indicated a willingness to consider developing some kind of criteria which will require oil companies to consider scenic, agricultural, historical, archeological, paleontological, recreational and environmental values when locating drilling sites. For the purpose of discussion, I have divided sites with these values into three categories.
The first category is for federally owned lands, such as National Parks and National Grasslands roadless areas, which already have restrictions on surface occupancy, but on which the state could add other protections, such as viewshed or noise buffer zones, in the location of drilling sites. In the case of a National Park, for example, a buffer zone could be created that would protect the viewshed from the park. A well might be located as close as a quarter mile from the Park boundary but out of sight of visitors to the park. Or, the Commission might require a well site to be moved two miles from the Park if there is no other way to access a lease without visual interruption to Park visitors. Likewise, if a permit application placed a well too close to a National Wildlife Refuge offering critical wildlife habitat (protected piping plovers, for example), the Commission might create a two-mile buffer zone around that refuge, requiring oil companies to access their lease horizontally—these days not a burdensome requirement.
The second category is lands owned or managed by the State of North Dakota. Generally, except for state school lands given to us at statehood, these are lands which have been acquired because they have some special value—parks, forests, wildlife areas and historic sites. On these lands, state agencies could make recommendations to the Commission about surface occupancy to protect those special values for which they were acquired. That’s already being done on state school lands. So the same process could be applied to other drilling permit applications, using the stipulation criteria already being used on school lands.
The third category is for areas such as buttes, trails and river valleys with scenic or other non-commercial values. These lands generally include a mix of public and privately owned land, so any restrictions placed on them would generally be well-site location recommendations to drillers to protect the scenic value of the areas. An example would be placing a well site out of sight of the front porch of a hunting lodge in the Bad Lands or away from a well-used hiking trail. Oil companies who are good partners and good corporate citizens should be receptive to recommendations from experts on well site locations which are not onerous.
Of course, all of these tasks are going to require sufficient staff at state agencies to review drilling permit applications to look for areas that need special consideration or permit stipulations. It’s a logical assumption that a request from the Industrial Commission to the Emergency Commission for additional FTE’s and funds to hire them will be met with favor. Because state agencies generally have access to GIS map layers, this task is not overly burdensome. It will just require time from agency staffs, and the knowledge, which will increase over time, to make recommendations on oil well placement. Nothing in this proposal will diminish the number of permits issued, nor will it, once implemented, slow the process of issuing permits. It is going to cost the state some money, but in the end it is going to make for better partnership between state regulators and the oil industry. In time, in fact, the industry will come to recognize areas the state is interested in, and incorporate that interest into their permit applications, speeding up the process of permit approval.
The lists below are not intended to create a priority ranking. As one state agency head said recently, “They are all important. They just need different kinds of consideration.” These categories are intended to show that there are numerous areas of special interest—Special Places—which require different kinds of attention in the permitting and drilling process.
Areas managed by federal agencies, that already have some surface occupancy restrictions or stipulations, around which we should create either a buffer zone or require viewshed and noise protection stipulations.
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park, all three units
- Lake Sakakawea, the Missouri River Valley above the lake, and the Yellowstone River Valley
- All non-motorized areas of the Little Missouri National Grasslands, including interior and adjacent state lands
- National Wildlife Refuges, Federal Waterfowl Production Areas, and other areas identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as critical habitat areas
- National Historic Sites, Districts and Landmarks
Areas managed by the State of North Dakota in which appropriate state agencies should make recommendations to the Industrial Commission on buffer zones, surface occupancy, well site locations and/or other appropriate stipulations (a model of which is already in use for state school lands), to offer some level of protection to areas in which the state has a significant investment.
- North Dakota State Parks, Forests, Recreation Areas, Preserves, Natural Areas and other lands managed by the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department or State Forestry Department
- North Dakota State Historic Sites and other historic areas managed, or identified as having historical significance, by the State Historical Society of North Dakota
- North Dakota Wildlife Management Areas and other areas identified as critical habitat by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department
- North Dakota State School Lands (already included in this category and already subject to stipulations)
Areas of particular scenic, agricultural, historical, archeological, paleontological, recreational or environmental significance, not necessarily owned or managed by a government agency, around which we should create viewshed protection, noise buffers and/or attach other surface occupancy stipulations to drilling permits to retain the non-commercial value of these areas. A partial list, which may be enhanced by agencies, organizations or people with expertise in these areas, is included here.
- The Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley
- The Killdeer Mountains
- The west slope of the Turtle Mountains
- The Maah Daah Hey Trail
- Paleontological sites in Bowman and Slope Counties
- Knife River Flint Quarries
- Areas identified by the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner or Tribal officials as having historical, religious or other special significance to Native American Tribes
- Bad Lands scenic areas such as White Butte, Chalky Buttes, Black Butte, Square Butte, Sentinel Butte, Camel’s Hump Butte, Pretty Butte, the Teepee Buttes, the Burning Coal Vein area, the Ponderosa Pine, Limber Pine and Columnar Juniper areas, and Tracy Mountain
In summary, this proposal generally proposes that each drilling permit application from this point forward be looked at by state agency professionals to make sure well sites and other surface disturbances related to oil and gas production are properly located. Such scrutiny will allow our state agencies to also consider the cumulative impact of the oil and gas industry on our natural and cultural resources and recommend to the Industrial Commission additional management practices to deal with that as well.
Written by Chet
On this day, eight years ago, I posted the very first blog post on this blog. Actually, it wasn't NorthDecoder, but it was NorthDecoder's predecessor, which -- in June of 2007 -- evolved into NorthDecoder. So we've been at it, off and on, for eight years.
Have some cake.
Written by Chet
Another Bismarck Tribune story caught my eye yesterday. I meant to write something about it, but things were a little hectic around here. The Teabune's government/politics cub half-reporter, Nick Smith, wrote a story entitled "Residents Gather to Talk Property Taxes." He clearly had decided to start writing a balanced teabagger story, so he approached the radical, right-wing guy who "spearheaded" the failed Measure 2 effort in the June 2012 primary, to eliminate property taxes in North Dakota.
Robert Hale, a Minot attorney for the property tax abolition group Empower the Taxpayer, sought to educate local landowners on property taxes. Information on how the property tax funds K-12 schools as well as local property tax data was shared with the more than 30 people at the Bismarck Public Library.
Hale said opponents of the measure claimed at the time that the state could address the issue of increasing property tax burdens through other means.
"The question is, did they fix them?" Hale said. "They were dead wrong. They've done nothing to fix them."
Okay, so they got the radical, right-wing teabaggeresque perspective on the dismal failure of Measure 2 in 2012. "Next," Nick apparently thought, "let's get the perspective of the 'other side' on the topic." So, of course, Smith went to...
Jon Godfread with the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce said it’s still fairly early but the meetings are on the chamber's radar. Godfread was speaking on behalf of Keep it Local North Dakota, a business coalition that fought the property tax abolition measure in 2012.
Godfread said while the Keep It Local group would likely oppose any new property tax abolition measure, the rising cost of the tax is an important problem to resolve.
"I definitely give them credit for keeping the discussion going," Godfread said.
There! Do you see what Nick did there? Nick smartly got the radical, crackpottish, teabaggy, right-wing view on property taxes, and then he got the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce right-wing corporatists, polluters and poisoners perspective.
All bases covered, right?
Nice work, Nick.
Crazy idea for you next time, Nick. When you're trying to do a political story and are going to try to pretend to present a balanced view in the Teabune, if you're doing a story about some right-wing crackpottery, call someone from the left to respond. And vice versa.
Sure, it sounds crazy. But it just might work.
Written by Jim Fuglie
(Cross-posted, with permission, from "The Prairie Blog.")
A friend of mine once described me as a “lapsed journalist.” I corrected him and said I was a “recovering journalist.” In either case, the title gives me the credentials to tell you a story about the sorry state of journalism in North Dakota.
Last Sunday, the Forum Communications Company’s North Dakota papers ran a story written by a young reporter that was generated by a blog post I wrote a couple weeks ago. (My blog, coincidentally, is hosted by Forum Communications, and shows up on the Area Voices sections of the websites of their newspapers, four of which—The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, The Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun and The Dickinson Press—are in North Dakota. It’s on their websites for now, at least. That may change after I finish writing this. I hope not, though.) In the blog post, I was pretty critical of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. The issue was the list of “Special Places” the North Dakota Industrial Commission is compiling, places which may or may not get special consideration when the Commission issues oil and gas drilling permits. You can read the story here if you want to.
The story was a summary of a long interview the reporter did with the Attorney General. Wayne defended what he had been doing that I was critical of, refuted a few things I said, but generally was kinder to me than I had been to him. That’s his style, and it’s why I still kind of like him. The reporter, however, was not so kind. He summarized what my blog had said in two sentences and then wrote “Fuglie did not return a phone message left at his home Thursday.”
As I said, the story ran on Sunday. Three days after he said he left me a message. Except that he didn’t leave me a message. Because I don’t have a phone at my home. When Lillian and I moved back to Bismarck in 2009, we both had cell phones, all of our friends had our numbers, and we couldn’t see wasting 50 or 60 bucks a month on a land line. So we didn’t.
Now, the fact that the story said I didn’t return the reporter’s call could have left, and probably did leave, a bad impression of me with the readers. Hmmm, Fuglie was afraid to respond to Stenehjem, or didn’t care enough to tell his side of the story, or something like that. Because the story ran on Sunday, and he got the message way back on Thursday. Surely Fuglie had time to return the call in three days.
All I know is, it really pissed me off. Not that I had much more to say (although I am usually not at a loss for words when a microphone is waved in front of my face), but that readers got a bad impression of me for not responding. So when I read the story, I found the reporter’s e-mail address and sent him an e-mail telling him I had no home phone and had never received a phone message from him. After a brief exchange of e-mails (all of which included my cell phone number) he explained that he had done something called a Lexis/Nexis search for me which turned up an old phone number which had been assigned to me back in 1982 and which was disconnected when I moved out to western North Dakota in 2004. His search showed my correct current address, with no current phone number, but it did show the old phone number listed by Lexis/Nexis with a previous address where I had lived when I had that phone number—nine years ago. So he called that number and left a message. On the voice mail of the person who now has that phone number. And then waited for me to respond. And that was the extent of his search for me, to include my comments in his story.
In his e-mail response to me, when he sent me his Lexis/Nexis search story, he ended his e-mail with “Just curious, is the other Jim Fuglie (wife Rose) a relative of yours?”
I wrote back that my wife’s name is Lillian, and that there is only one other Jim Fuglie in the whole world, my third cousin in Minneapolis, whose wife’s name is Kaye. But I puzzled over that question for a while, and then decided to become a reporter and do some investigating. I wanted to know whose voice mail he had left a message for me on. So I went to the online White Pages directory and did a reverse phone look-up for the number that used to be mine. Sure enough, it has been reassigned. To James Rose. Hmmm. James Rose. Hmmm. Jim Rose. Light bulb came on. I called the number. Got a voice mail message: “Hello, this is Jim Rose. I can’t come to the phone right now . . .” Not “Jim and Rose.” Just “Jim Rose.” Articulated very clearly. Mystery solved. I did not leave a message.
Well, that, unfortunately, has become the standard for reporting the news in North Dakota. Write a story, make a half-hearted effort to contact people named in the story, then run it. My, how things have changed since my days as a reporter and editor. My editor at the Dickinson Press once told me “It is not good enough to say someone was ‘unavailable for comment’ (which I once tried to do in a story about coal development in 1975) until you have exhausted every possibility that you might be able to track them down.” In our case, that meant staying on the phone right up until our 9:30 or 10 p.m. deadline, or driving to the bowling alley where they might be in a league, or calling their cousin in Bowman to see if he knew where the person might be. I often was able to reach someone who was a principal in a story by simply staying with the effort. And in pretty much every case, it made the story better. Sometimes, when you could not get both sides of the story, you had to just hold the story until the next day (or until Sunday), until you finally reached everybody. Not in 2013. Today, you just say “Well, we left a message for the asshole, but he didn’t call us back, so screw him.” Usually, though, I think the reporters try to make sure they leave the message at the right house. Usually. Not always. Of course, in my day there was no such thing as voice mail, so you couldn’t just say “He did not return a phone message left at his home Thursday.” You actually had to keep calling back until you either reached someone or you reached your deadline.
There’s a story I used to tell reporters who worked for me, or with me, that bears repeating. It was election night, 1972 at The Dickinson Press. The entire Press staff was working the phones, tracking down election results, including a young high school senior, who was a paid part-time staffer, but I suppose would be called an intern today. County auditors in southwest North Dakota had been asked to call in the results of the election in their county. The Press was not only doing its own story, but forwarding the results to the Associated Press, which was compiling the results statewide and announcing the winners. There was a very close race for Governor between Art Link and Richard Larsen, and it was not going to be decided until every county’s results had been tabulated.
As the paper’s deadline neared, The Press staff had results from all of its assigned counties except Adams County, in extreme southwest North Dakota. There was no answer at the county auditor’s office. The office had been closed for the night and everyone gone home, without reporting in. What to do? Put the paper to bed without the Adams County results? Nope, said the editor, keep trying. We’ll hold the presses.
Well, it turns out one reporter happened to be from Adams County, and he told the young intern the auditor’s name and said to call her home. He did. No answer. Well, then, call the bars in Hettinger, starting with the Pastime, the reporter said to the intern. Sometimes they go out for a drink after they are done working.
Bingo. She was at the Pastime. She had the results in her car. She got them and gave them to the intern over the phone from the bar. With that, the story was complete and the paper went to print. In the morning, everyone knew that in spite of the fact Richard Larsen had beaten Art Link by 16 votes out of almost 2,000 cast in Adams County, Art Link had been elected Governor, by less than 5,000 votes statewide. (And, as an aside, that Byron Dorgan beat Richard Lommen for State Tax Commissioner by a vote of 1,350 to 377 in Adams County.)
It would have been easy for The Press to report “Results from Adams County were not available because the county auditor failed to report them.” Would have made the auditor look pretty bad. But the newspaper’s job is to gather the news, and report it. Not reporting it is cheating the newspaper’s subscribers, who paid to learn who won the election. And because that young high school senior, Clay Jenkinson, listened to that former Adams County resident across the desk from him, Jim Fuglie, and got back on the phone and started calling bars, earning himself the nickname “Scoop” from that day forward, the story was complete. That’s good journalism, the way it used to be practiced. And should still be. But these days, a voice mail is sufficient. Even if it is pretty clear that the voice mail was left on someone else’s phone.
In this case, the reporter tried to reach me on a Thursday. I did not respond immediately because I did not get the message. But the story did not run until Sunday. So he had Friday and Saturday to try to track me down to ask me whatever it was he was going to ask me. He didn’t do that. These days, it is pretty easy to track someone down, with all the communications devices available. I communicate regularly with a number of Forum Communications employees by e-mail and phone. I am Facebook friends with many of them, including both Bill Marcils. My e-mail is on my Facebook page. I have a comment section on my blog, which sends me an e-mail when someone comments, as he should have known, since the blog is on all the Forum Communications websites. Pretty much everyone who knows me or knows of me knows that I worked for the Democratic-NPL Party and the Medora Foundation, so they would surely know how to find me. I could go on.
But you know what? I don’t just fault the reporter. That story appeared in four North Dakota newspapers. It had to get past four city editors before it got into the papers. Every one of those editors should have said “Wait a minute, how hard did you try to reach Fuglie? Try again. The story is not complete, and you have a couple days to fix it.” But instead, they just ran with what they had. Bad journalism. Top to bottom.
To their credit, senior editors at the Grand Forks Herald, by far the state’s best newspaper, took a look at the story when it appeared in the paper and said “Well, that’s not good enough.” So they ran an editorial the next day, which you can read here. The Dickinson Press also reprinted it a couple days later. The Forum ran a correction in the paper the next day which said “A message left Thursday for former North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party executive director Jim Fuglie was left at the wrong phone number, so Fuglie did not have an opportunity to respond to a request for comment. This information was incorrect in a story on Page C1 of Sunday’s Forum about North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s effort to compile a list of ‘extraordinary places’ in the state for protection from energy development and other impacts.” I wasn’t able to get printed copies of the other three papers so I don’t know if they also ran the correction. None of them ran it on their website, where I first read the story, that I can tell.
Now, I hope readers don’t get the impression I’m feeling picked on or feeling sorry for myself. I’m not. This isn’t really about me, and it really isn’t about the young reporter who did this story. I’ve been bemoaning the sorry state of journalism in North Dakota for a long time, and this is a classic example of how the news media here operates today. Next time you read a newspaper story, and you come to the line “Fred did not respond to a request for comment” you’ll likely know that the reporter did not really make much of an effort to reach Fred, and his or her editor did not care. I am a newspaper junkie, having been raised in the profession. But I have a lot of friends who have just given up on subscribing to their local paper because of the quality of journalism they see, and have come to expect. Instead, they glance through the news online. They watch “The Daily Show” (but not the six o’clock news). Newspaper circulation continues to decline. So do television news ratings. There’s a reason. You just finished reading about it.
Footnote: A short crime story in Friday’s Bismarck Tribune, by an Associated Press writer, contained these three statements:
- The man’s attorney, Henry Howe, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
- Pembina County State’s Attorney Barbara Whelan also did not immediately return a call seeking more information on the case.
- The woman did not immediately respond to requests for comment made Thursday through Facebook. (!!!) (emphasis and exclamatory incredibility mine)
I checked online, and it ran in pretty much every paper in the state. Just like that. Apparently this is indeed the new standard for news reporting (and editing) in North Dakota. Isn’t that sad?
Written by Chet
The corrupt ALEC organization is coming to North Dakota next week. And your public utility company is paying for it with money you are required to pay to the MDU monopoly if you want electricty. (Unless you're served by a cooperative or are in the eastern part of the state.) A lot of people don't know what "ALEC" is, so I'm going to tell you. I've written about ALEC a few times before, but I'll do it again. ALEC is a corrupt organization that lobbies legislators in North Dakota and other states on behalf of polluters, oil companies (but I repeat myself), private for-profit prisons, big banks, bad insurance companies and big pharma. If you see a proposed law that will take accountability away for polluters, oil companies, private prisons, big banks, bad insurance companies or negligent pharmaceutical companies, you can bet the legislation is the handiwork of some ALEC minion.
Back during the 2009 North Dakota legislative session, ALEC sent two of its operatives into North Dakota to lobby to protect one specific asbestos company from liability when that company's product hurt or killed someone. After I busted them for lobbying illegally (without registering), those two lobbyists promptly filed the proper paperwork with the North Dakota Secretary of State's office. (You can read all about that by clicking here.) Of course, neither the Secretary of State nor the Attorney General nor any State's Attorney ever prosecuted those lobbyists for illegally lobbying. They are not in the business of enforcing the laws against their corporate masters and owners.
Then, in July of 2010, when its operatives filed its IRS form 990 (non-profit tax return), ALEC lied on its 2009 tax return. Non-profits are required -- under federal tax law -- to disclose whether they "engage in lobbying activities" on their tax return. When ALEC filled out its 2009 return, they lied to the IRS and said they had not engaged in lobbying activities in 2009, despite the irrefutable fact that two of its operatives registered as lobbyists in North Dakota, and they lobbied here, during the 2009 legislative session. They checked the box that says "No" in response to the question "Did the organization engage in lobbying activities?" (See my blog post about this, with a copy of their Form 990, here.) This was a big enough deal, nationally, so that it raised the attention of a top IRS administrator -- Marcus Owens, "who for a decade directed the [IRS] division responsible for approving organizations' charity status." (RollCall.com) Here's what RollCall.com wrote about it after one group filed an IRS complaint about it at the time:
The complaint, filed on behalf of Clergy Voice, a group of Christian clergy in Ohio, notes that ALEC denied engaging in lobbying activity in its federal tax filings covering the years 2008 and 2009. At the same time, two of its lawyers were registered to lobby in at least one state, North Dakota. False reporting on these forms has been found to be a criminal offense considered perjury in at least four recent cases, Owens said.
RollCall.com (emphasis added) (go read the whole story)
Let's be clear about something: You've never read, heard or seen anything about any of this in any North Dakota mainstream media outlet. That's because they are all bought-and-paid-for by ALEC and its owners.
So yesterday's Bismarck Teabune had a nice little story in it by one of its cub half-journalists, Nick Smith; someone who obviously knows nothing about ALEC, or doesn't care about publishing the whole story. His fluff piece reads like something from any small town social register. "Mary Lou Hindsworth hosting a ladies tea party next Friday." Here's part of his unhelpful, half-story drivel.
A social event will be held next week in Bismarck for lawmakers to meet and raise money for a legislative organization that pushes for free-market legislation.
MDU Resources will be hosting a beer and wine tasting for lawmakers Wednesday at its corporate campus in Bismarck. The event is to promote and raise money for the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ALEC is a corporate-funded organization that works with conservative legislators as well as businesses and foundations to create models for state legislatures to pass.
The group on its website lists its main legislative principles as free-market enterprise, limited government and federalism. Policies the group has pushed in several states in the past include reducing corporate taxation and regulations, promoting gun rights and minimizing environmental regulations.
This award-winning, passes-for-journalism-in-North-Dakota mush reminds me of something in the Farewell Column written by past-editor Lee Morris of the Valley City Times Record back in 2011. Remember that? Morris snuck his good-bye column into the newspaper by putting a fake title and author at the top, but then wrote an honest piece about how his corporate masters were demanding that the paper produce "more coverage on events such as Chamber of Commerce luncheons and ribbon-cutting ceremonies" (more here) and that he couldn't continue to pretend he was producing real journalism under those circumstances. Then Morris promptly resigned. Today we get to watch the Bismarck Tribune's "reporters" write about social events hosted by MDU that pretend to be "fundraisers" for ALEC.
So what's the truth? The truth is that ALEC is -- and should be -- scared to death to come back into North Dakota to do more lobbying, like it always does, because it accidentally admitted it was lobbying in 2009. The truth is ALEC lied on its 2009 tax return. The truth is they haven't been prosecuted -- to my knowledge -- and that's probably because the IRS and/or the Justice Department is afraid of being accused of engaging in politics. Legislators won't be paying $250 to attend this fundraiser. They just won't. The truth is the corrupt ALEC organization is trying to recover from its "rough spot" in North Dakota. The truth is that we're not getting the news from our "newspapers." And we should all be upset by this.
But we're not.
We're too busy listening to knuckleheads on the radio complaining about how the Democrats think even poor people should have access to health care. We're too busy focusing on hater(s) in Leith. We're all mad that the federal government's website isn't able to enroll in private health insurance the people Republicans don't want enrolling anyway.
Maybe we don't deserve anything better than the nonsense we get from the Bismarck Tribune. Maybe Nick Smith is serving us the crap sandwich we deserve.
Someone on DailyKos suggests North Dakotans ought to organize a protest. What are you going to do about it?
(For more on ALEC, read this report from the American Association for Justice. NorthDecoder is cited in several endnotes (e.g. 1, 36, 37, 47). That's because we sniffed out (some of) ALEC's corruption in North Dakota and broke the illegal-lobbying story.)
Written by Chet
Craig Cobb woke this morning to find lawn 12" longer than neighbor's. Lauren Donovan en route 2 Leith w/ 2 notepads, extra pens, GPS & flashlight. 2nd Idiot Summit Postponed. #BisTrib #NotRealJournalism
Written by Chet
North Dakota's Tea Party, anti-Farm Bill, anti-Social Security, pro-shutdown Congressman Kevin Cramer issued a press release this morning, to let all of us know he has invited President Obama to visit North Dakota. I've decided to do the same, only I'm going to try to be a little more honest about all of it. Here goes...
Dear Mr. President,
There is a place in America where Republicans' vision of a corporatist/fascist paradise is a reality. Plus, we're almost done eliminating the pesky wildlife.
It is a place where a new groundbreaking takes place nearly every day, much of it in formerly pristine habitat, and where the signs at all the minimum-wage burger joints say “now hiring” instead of “going out of business”. As has always been true here, anybody can come to North Dakota, get three part-time jobs at poverty wages, struggle to find afforable housing, and still qualify for food stamps!
It is a place where oligarchs in the energy, agriculture, technology, and manufacturing industries thrive, providing a few executive level positions for people in Oklahoma and Texas, many medium to high-wage jobs for people who need that money so they can give most of it back to their employer/landlords as rent, and countless starvation-wage jobs for our citizens and those we welcome from around the world.
This used to be North Dakota, and I invite you to see it for yourself while the air is still just-barely safe enough to breathe.
You campaigned here before you became President and before Republicans sold the state to a billionaire oil baron, and a lot has gotten worse. While you've been successfully repairing all the damage done by Republican "tinkle down" economics, North Dakota Republicans have been literally burning off our rich natural resources in exchange for a few gold coins and a long, state-wide future as America's Mordor-like cancer cluster theme park. While progressives claw and scratch to get the media to fairly cover the countless stories about it, North Dakota has nearly tripled the amount of natural gas we flare, producing emissions equivalent to more than two medium-sized coal-fired power plants and looking like a huge metropolitan city (from space). We also proudly call ourselves a conservative "red state" while simultaneously bragging of socialized enterprises including a State Bank and a State Mill and Elevator, as well as a little-known illegal socialized public-records-selling service. Meanwhile, housing is getting so unaffordable in parts of the state, that some governmental entities are resorting to operating socialized housing for public employees because it's becoming unaffordable for the people they hire, for example, to afford to live in anything but government-owned FEMA trailers.
Mr. President, you have seen the headlines about the rapidly escallating crime rate in North Dakota, and I know your advisors have briefed you on human trafficking of, by and to our citizens. Several of your cabinet officials have traveled here, and we are grateful for their visits though they inconveniently force our oil company overlords and state officials to cover-up huge oil field blowouts near our one national park while your cabinet officials are in the area.
But I believe the significance of the North Dakota story requires a visit from the President himself before this great state becomes uninhabitable. And what better way to assure a nation your first priority is job creation than to visit the state creating a cancer-cluster, crime-riddled, wildlife-free, corporatists' paradise faster than anywhere else?
I want to show you production that exchanges our safe, rich, habitable state for relatively short-lived temporary American energy security.
I want to show you our endangered agriculture industry and introduce you to the farmers and ranchers feeding (oil-soaked?) Monsanto-patented GMO crops to a hungry, unsuspecting world.
I want to introduce you to our debt-burdened college students confident there might be a job for them after graduation, if the air quality doesn't continue its death spiral and crime doesn't scare them away.
I want to show you our coal operations in some of the nation’s most rapidly declining air quality, and see if you can tell the difference between untouched acres and the Custer Mine State Game Management Area east of Garrison, along Highway 83, or the well-pad and well-access-road beleaguered area along Lake Sakakawea straight north of Keene, North Dakota. Or any olympic-pool-sized toxic fracking waste pit.
And nearly everyone you meet along the way will have an Albuteral inhaler and a "The Koch Brothers for President" bumper sticker.
I and my staff -- well, I, anyway -- stand ready to work with your team on every logistic, and a travel schedule which maximizes your time.
Please visit North Dakota to see what Mordor looked like before it looked like Mordor. The flap on our hasmat tent is open and waiting.
Which letter is more honest? Mine? Or Tea Partier Kevin Cramer's?