Bullion Butte has been saved“Our hike soon brought us to the top of Bullion Butte,” writes Mark Gonzalez of the North Dakota Geological Survey, recalling a boyhood hike to what might be the most scenic spot in the state. “We gazed at the Badlands sprawled hundreds of feet below. The wind stirred clothes, hair and some primeval niche within our souls.
By: Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
“Our hike soon brought us to the top of Bullion Butte,” writes Mark Gonzalez of the North Dakota Geological Survey, recalling a boyhood hike to what might be the most scenic spot in the state.
“We gazed at the Badlands sprawled hundreds of feet below. The wind stirred clothes, hair and some primeval niche within our souls.
“Collectively, we shared a simple feeling: It sure feels good to be alive!”
To North Dakota’s great good fortune, it’s much more likely today that future generations will be able to enjoy that same feeling after climbing to that same spot.
That’s because the Department of Trust Lands now has removed two sections of land on Bullion Butte’s west slope from an upcoming minerals lease. So, there won’t be an oil well on Bullion Butte after all — not now and, with luck and good land management, maybe not ever.
The department took this action in response to concerns raised by hikers and conservationists from around the state. Trust-land administrators didn’t have to listen to the concerns. In fact, the administrators could have ignored the comments and found all kinds of reasons in state law for doing so, if the department had chosen to take a hard line.
But the administrators didn’t take a hard line. Instead and to their credit, they paid attention to what the conservationists said, then dispatched a team to take a look at the landscape surrounding Bullion Butte for themselves.
And as a result, department commissioner Lance Gaebe sent out an email Monday that had this to say:
“The following Golden Valley County tracts will be removed from the list of tracts available during the May 1, 2012 lease offering,” the email notes. Then it lists Township 137, Range 103 and sections 16 and 24 as the tracts to be removed, thereby eliminating the threat of oil wells on Bullion Butte.
Gaebe, the State Land Board and others in the trust lands department deserve North Dakotans’ thanks.
If you’ve seen the Medora Musical at the Burning Hills Amphitheater in Medora, N.D., you’ve seen Bullion Butte. It’s the massive feature that dominates the Badlands landscape on the horizon, 15 miles to the southwest.
Bullion Butte is not North Dakota’s tallest butte, but it may be the biggest. It’s so enormous that it even forced the Little Missouri River to yield; the river detours 40 miles out of its way to get around Bullion Butte’s bulk.
Just as important, the landscape around Bullion Butte is relatively pristine. As mentioned before in this space, only about 40,000 acres of the 1-million-acre Little Missouri National Grasslands remain eligible for wilderness protection, and that frontier-like acreage includes Bullion Butte.
Besides intruding on the natural landscape, oil development would have run over this eligibility with heavy equipment. That would made it a lot tougher for the wind to stir something “primeval” in visitors’ souls.
“I watched the golden eagle soar until my neck tired of gazing upward,” Gonzalez writes of his boyhood hike.
“I’m sure it was pulled inexorably to the isolated cliffs of Bullion Butte, just as I’ve been pulled back to my sparsely populated home state. Could there be a better place for a golden eagle? Could there be a better place for a kid?”
Be proud that in at least one special corner of North Dakota, the answer will remain “no” to both.