Farmers, ranchers deal with unrest in Standing Rock, North Dakota protest
Human roadblocks, police escorts, masked onlookers.
North Dakota ranchers don’t expect to encounter them.
For some farmers and ranchers in the St. Anthony, North Dakota, area, these situations are now a part of their daily lives.
Ranchers and farmers in Morton and Sioux Counties have become collateral damage in the midst of a protest movement attempting to stop Energy Transfer’s completion of a pipeline that will stretch from northwestern North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa and into Illinois. Energy Transfer is the company building a pipeline to move light sweet crude oil from the Bakken oilfield in Western North Dakota to refineries in Patoka, Illinois. The 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline must cross the Missouri River, which is the one of the main complaints of the protesters.
Aaron Fleck, a fourth generation Solen, North Dakota rancher, said in a YouTube video that he decided to arm himself to protect his family from potentially dangerous situations.
A police escort was used to ensure that his children’s school bus arrived safely at its destination.
One morning, an individual from the protest was across the highway, making a recording of his ranch yard, he said. “I said ‘I don’t see why you are video-taping my yard, the pipeline doesn’t even go through our property. ‘He said, ‘Well, I can do whatever I want, I’m not on your property.’”
Mandan area rancher, Dwight Keller, who lives about five miles from the pipeline, said that for a time he was going through a checkpoint every time he left or returned home. Keller’s cattle were pastured about three miles from the pipeline, but he hauled them home after checking them nearly every day over concern for their safety.
Kenny Graner, who ranches 15 miles south of Mandan, said the pipeline is about three miles from his land but he’s been witness to the protest for months.
All of the ranchers we reached whose land was being crossed by the pipeline declined to speak with Tri-State Livestock News.
Graner isn’t surprised.
“When you live in an area where protesters are walking around with bandanas on their faces, it’s unnerving. They (local ranchers) don’t want to say anything.”
Graner said farmers and ranchers have encountered challenges moving cattle, hauling hay and harvesting crops. Protesters park on approaches, preventing access in and out of fields and pastures. The typical feeling of commitment to safety in a rural community is absent at least for now.
“They don’t feel comfortable leaving equipment in the field so they quit early, move everything home and then have to move everything back in the morning. They are worried about vandalism.” While farm equipment hasn’t been targeted, activists have cut hydraulic lines and also put sugar and dirt in engines of construction equipment.
“There are a lot of guys (ranchers) on the pipeline itself and they have every right to be scared. The vulgarity is the thing. They’ve always preached that this is a peaceful protest but the vulgarity toward law enforcement – you drive by these folks and they are shaking their fists at you and swearing,” Graner said.
Fleck said he doesn’t believe most of the protesters are North Dakotans.
“I’ve lived with the native people all of my life. I’ve never had a problem with them.”
Morton County Commission chairman Cody Schulz said the county estimates around 2,000 individuals are camping at the protest sites. “Around 300 to 350 are what we call trouble makers. They use intimidation. The rest are truly peaceful and prayerful. There is sympathy for those individuals but the agitators are painting them with a broad brush.”
About nine percent of those arrested are North Dakotans, he said.
According to Donnell Preskey, with Morton County, the cost to the county has been about $4.4 million so far. “We’ve tried to coordinate discussions with tribal leaders and camp leaders to try and figure out what the resolve could be. But all I can really say is that those discussions have been ongoing.”
All of the 416 individuals who have been arrested have been released on bond.
The main group of protesters has set up on U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Land north of the Cannonball River, where it meets the Missouri River. They do not have a permit and according to John Henderson, Corps of Engineers colonel, they are considered trespassers.
Protesters have set up Sacred Stone Camp and Seven Councils camp on the south side of the Cannonball with permission to camp on both Corps land as well as private property within the Standing Rock Reservation.
Former protest organizer Cody Hall said he was leading the charge to stop the pipeline out of a dual concern for fresh water, and Americans’ over-dependence on oil. “There are alternative methods for fossil fuels such as solar and wind but there are no alternative methods for water.” The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe recently asked Hall to leave the protest site.
Hall, from South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said he and the protesters worry about oil spills, particularly ones that would pollute the Missouri River.
“There is an oil spill every week, from a few gallons to hundreds of thousands. That’s polluting our land, which eventually gets to the water. We need to think of alternative methods for fossil fuels. America needs to wake up and say we can’t be so dependent on oil and gas.”
While Hall does not speak for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, he said he speaks “on behalf of humanity,” in his opposition to the pipeline.
Hall said he has led other rallies and movements in Rapid City, South Dakota and other locations. While he traveled to Standing Rock to show support, he was asked to serve as the spokesman for “red warrior camp,” which he said is the action camp. “They are referred to as the Marines of the campers. They are the ones getting stuff done. They are there to stop the pipeline.”
The red warrior camp has used direct action like locking themselves to machinery to stop progress of the pipeline. “If you stop work for a day which consists of six or more hours – those workers belong to a union and they can’t work for more than eight hours. They can’t tell those workers to work into the night. Not many unions are willing to disrupt that flow.”
Energy Transfer loses $400,000 for each day it is not building pipe, Hall said, and he believes that in a two-week period he and his fellow protesters caused the company to lose over $2 million. “It comes with a price, people being arrested. They are putting their civil liberties on the line for the protection of land and water.”
Social media commenters have pointed out that the tribal chairman Dave Archambault II owns a convenience store near the protest sites.
Dustin Thompson, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and writer for their local newspaper, acknowledged that this is fact but said “he is doing what he can as a leader.”
The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, who oversees the state’s brand inspection and brand investigation program has reported four separate instances of livestock being killed and missing.
Six cows, two horses and seven bison have been discovered killed. Several were butchered. Two of the cows were burned after being killed. Two other cows survived being shot – one by a firearm and another by arrows. The rancher who reported the dead cattle and horses also reported at least 30 head of missing cattle. The bison were found on the north side of the Cannonball River on privately owned land while the other animals, also privately owned, were on the south side of the river on the reservation.
The Stockmen’s Association is emphatic that there is no known connection between the livestock attacks and the protest activities.
The organization and the Sioux and Morton County sheriff’s departments continue to investigate each case and welcome any information.
Hall, who was leading the “red warrior camp” when the livestock killings happened, said he would have seen evidence of the meat in the camp if his fellow protesters had butchered any livestock.
“Where is the evidence? Where is the video or pictures?”
Thompson said that both cattle and buffalo have been donated to the protest camps but that he doesn’t believe the protesters are to blame for the unsolved cases of dead livestock. “Usually our people – when we process something, very little gets wasted.”
Hall also said that protesters had not trespassed. “There are no signs, nothing saying you are on private land.”
Schulz said during a standoff on Oct. 28, where authorities removed protesters from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, three riders tried to force a group of privately-owned buffalo on Morton County pastureland to stampede law enforcement. “A helicopter diverted the buffalo just in time. They were within 500 yards of stampeding law enforcement.”
During that same standoff, protesters were swimming and boating the river, attempting to gain access to Corps land where they did not have permission to be.
Landowners and ranchers have threatened protesters, Thompson said. He also said that some protesters have been asked to “break camp” following particularly violent episodes they’ve incited.
“The spiritual and political leaders keep calling for peace and they have asked any agitators to settle down,” he said.
The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association said in addition to concern safety of their livestock, their members have also learned of protesters draining fuel, hydraulic fluid and engine oil from construction equipment, in the name of protecting the environment.
A security guard’s pickup was burned up, Thompson said, as well as Dakota Access equipment. “I don’t know who or how but somebody managed to get to the equipment and lit two pieces on fire.
Activists vandalized the state capitol building in nearby Bismarck, pouring oil on the sidewalk, entrance doors and on the outside walls of the building on Halloween night, according to Valley News Live.
On October 28, two Morton County dump trucks were destroyed said commissioner Cody Schulz. “They are completely burned up.”
While no farm or ranch equipment was damaged, Schulz said machinery owned by the pipeline company was also destroyed with fire.
A concrete bridge where protesters burned tires and other items for at least 14 hours on Oct. 28, will need to be inspected for safety before it can be used again, Schulz said.
“Our spiritual leaders are trying to keep everyone in peaceful prayer but some of the younger generations believe that since police have been escalating their show of force that we should also show the same,” Thompson said. “There is a divide between violent and peaceful groups. These things have happened. We need to acknowledge it and get back to being prayerful and peaceful.”
Actions by the Obama administration that undermine the federal courts’ authority may set an unsettling precedent.
In September a federal judge determined that Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s claim that they were not included in the planning was false and that the pipeline company had adequately surveyed the area for artifacts before deciding on the route. The pipeline will not cross reservation ground, even though it comes close. In his decision, the judge pointed out that the pipeline would run adjacent to a gas pipeline and underneath power lines. The pipeline company chose this route because the land had already been “disturbed” in the past.
Immediately following the decision, President Obama issued a news release saying the pipeline would not cross Army Corps land or Lake Oahe until more research was done. A higher court in October backed the lower court’s ruling that the pipeline could proceed.
In a Nov. 2 interview with Democracy Now, Obama said the pipeline might need to be re-routed. “I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to re-route the pipeline.”
“If the administration is allowed to interfere with natural resource projects that have followed applicable laws in this case, what’s to say that, next time, the same thing doesn’t happen to an agricultural project, like a feedlot, for instance?” North Dakota Stockman’s Association president Warren Zenker said in a news release. “The federal government has created confusion and uncertainty and has acted anything but like a democracy in this situation.”
Energy Transfer says “the Dakota Access Pipeline will reduce the amount of crude oil shipped by truck and by rail…pipelines are statistically the safest and most reliable mode of transporting crude. DAPL will improve safety to the public and environment and free up rail capacity for the transportation of crops and other commodities currently constrained by crude oil cargos.”