Forest Service to issue permit to mine gravel near Roosevelt's historic North Dakota ranch

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — A businessman who wants to mine gravel near Theodore Roosevelt's historic ranch in western North Dakota will be issued a permit to do so, the U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday.

The agency said it found no significant impact with the project, located 25 miles north of Medora. Acting district ranger Karen Dunlap told The Associated Press she signed the decision on Tuesday, and a permit will be issued once a bond amount is determined. The proposed 25-acre mine site is about a mile from Roosevelt's historic ranch cabin.

Roger Lothspeich, of Miles City, Montana, and his fiancee, Peggy Braunberger, have spent more than six years proving they own the right to remove gravel and other surface minerals at the 5,200-acre ranch.

"Finally," Lothspeich told the AP on Tuesday.

Lothspeich signed an agreement with the Forest Service more than two years ago to work out an exchange for other federal land or mineral rights at a different location. But he said the government was too slow in responding, and he decided to mine gravel at the site instead to take advantage of the growing need for roads and other projects in North Dakota's booming oil patch.

"There is a big demand for gravel, no question," he said.

Lothspeich said he plans to start gravel operations in the spring with about a dozen workers.

Several conservation groups opposed the permit, Dunlap said.

"The biggest concerns were over the viewshed and soundscape that could be heard from the cabin site," she said.

Dunlap and Lothspeich said gravel operations would be halted if big events or tours are planned at the historic cabin.

"We'll knock off for a few days," Lothspeich said.

Roosevelt, who was president from 1901 to 1909, set aside millions of acres for national forests and wildlife refuges during his administration. He spent more than three years in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880s.

The Forest Service purchased the ranch next to Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site in 2007 from the Eberts family. It cost $5.3 million, with $4.8 million coming from the federal government and $500,000 from conservation groups. More than 50 wildlife and conservation groups, including the Boone and Crockett Club started by Roosevelt himself, had pressed Congress to approve the deal. The purchase did not include mineral rights.

The Eberts family had bought the ranch where Roosevelt ran his cattle and half the mineral rights from the Connell family in 1993 for $800,000. Lothspeich, who grew up near the ranch, bought the other half of the mineral rights from the Connells at an undisclosed price, knowing the government had not obtained them in the Eberts deal.

Dunlap said her agency has since identified 43 other people who have mineral rights in the area and could potentially develop them.

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