Don’t Remove Wild Horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park

NOTE: I submitted this on the final day of public comment period on the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Livestock Plan. I live 30 minutes away from the park, where wild horses have roamed longer than I’ve been alive. A new park Livestock Plan — put together quietly and quickly by the National Park Service — has stirred up the emotions of many in western North Dakota. Below, you’ll find my stance on the subject, which echoes the thoughts of many others in my region of the world.

The wild (feral) horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit are an iconic symbol of freedom and beauty in the American West.

Not only do the horses add to the park’s biodiversity and contribute to its rich natural and cultural history, the horses’ ability to roam freely within the national park’s boundaries serve as a symbol of our rights and freedoms as Americans.

But like with so many other decisions the federal government likes to make, it seems like freedom and history are of no value.

While we’ve all heard thousands of reasons as to why the wild horses shouldn’t be removed from Theodore Roosevelt National Park – be it from historic, ecological or financial perspectives – not once in the federal government’s plan have legitimate, scientific data-backed reasons been given to the public as to why this needs to happen. The NPS appears to be making its decisions based almost entirely on 45-year-old policy and overarching federal guidelines unspecific to any one national park or federally protected location.

The National Park Service must reconsider its downright egregious and short-sighted plan to forcibly remove any wild horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park based almost entirely on decades-old policy. At worst, it must only consider Alternative A in the park’s Livestock Plan while amending it to update the current livestock management plan that caps the number of horses at 60 by working with park-specific ecologists, biologists and zoologists and amending the 1978 Environmental Assessment using modern scientific data and methodologies. The eye test alone shows the South Unit of the park is capable of handling far more than just 60 wild horses scattered across its 46,000 acres.

Continue reading “Don’t Remove Wild Horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park”

One Year With the Big Little Guy

I spent a lot of time working from home last week because, unfortunately, our daycare provider was recovering from a lingering illness. That meant balancing all my newspaper business and this rambunctious little boy named Grant, who turned 1-year-old on Saturday.

Last week showed me how incredible it is that I’ve watched my son age and grow, both physically and intellectually, from birth to his first birthday. It seems like yesterday that we brought that snuggly little 9-pound, 2-ounce baby home from the hospital.

Grant has since transformed into a walking, babbling, wheels-always-turning waddler, and nothing in our home is safe. Especially our dog, Noodle, who’s still coming around to the idea of Grant.

When Grant embraced walking about a month ago, we knew nothing would ever be the same. The baby days were over. The toddler days had begun. Noodle, to his credit, has found that his only real safe space in the house is perched atop furniture or locked in his kennel.

As I worked from my home office in the corner of our basement, I tried desperately to balance watching Grant with assigning stories, checking pages and writing the occasional brief.

What started out as a somewhat clean area — his play zone is supposed to be in the opposite corner of the room — quickly turned into a minefield of toys, stuffed animals and books. There was no use picking them up or sorting them, either. Grant’s mission seems to be to play with every toy in his collection for a short time and then move on to the next.

When he found the 18-gallon plastic tote full of children’s books, his first thought was to remove each, glance at them for a couple seconds and then toss them aside for the next. Much of that pile is still sitting there on the floor as I write this.

His favorite books, appropriately, are from the “Bizzy Bear” series, which only makes sense since he has become an incredibly busy boy. We’re incredibly grateful that he has embraced books and already refuses to accept bedtime without mom and dad reading one of his “Bizzy Bear” books to him.

While Grant has changed, so has our little family. We wake up earlier, we work less, we take more time to eat together and we make sure that family — especially Grant — comes first.

It’s been a crazy but amazing first year as parents for Sarah and I, and like every other parent, we’re still learning on the job each day. But it’s worth it, just to see Grant’s big blue eyes light up and hear him laugh every single day.

My Generation’s 9/11 Memories Are the Next Generation’s History

Every one of us has our own 9/11 story. Even those of us who grew up on a farm 1,700 miles away from downtown Manhattan.

I’m 32 years old and haven’t met a person my age who can’t tell you exactly where they were when the World Trade Center was hit.

I was in bed. When my dad woke me up to tell me what happened that morning, the tragic event was in its fledgling moments and most of the world assumed it was some terrible accident.

Minutes later, we all realized it was something so much worse.

I was only a few weeks into my senior year of high school when the towers fell. It was a strange time.

During our seven periods of school that day, we had one actual class. (Apparently, math couldn’t take a backseat to the biggest event of our lifetimes.) We watched TV in every other class and discussed what was happening. The teachers didn’t want to teach. The students didn’t want to learn. We all were content to watch as history unfolded before our eyes.

The guys in our class — as 17- and 18-year-olds — wondered what was next. War? The draft? Did World War III just start? After all, the last time America was attacked like that, World War II started and many of our grandfathers ended up being drafted into military service.

Thankfully, there was no draft. But there was certainly war, and some of the young men and women in our school that morning would go on to serve nobly during the Global War on Terrorism by their own choice. Some are still serving, including one of my best friends.

Every one of them who came back returned unharmed. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for every American family — including some in our area.

This weekend marks the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on our country.

To coincide with the anniversary, Dickinson is hosting its first Veterans Appreciation Day at 11 a.m. today at Memorial Park, the site of the new Stark County Veterans Memorial.

Another 180 names have been placed on the memorial’s 11 granite tablets since it was erected last year. Post-9/11 veterans, active military and their families will the special guests today, and there’ll be a tribute to first responders as well.

Though I’m relatively young, it’s crazy to think that 9/11 happened so long ago that this year’s high school freshman class wasn’t alive for it. That means basically no high school student today can recall 9/11. To them, this is actual history.

That makes my generation’s role in relaying that history so significant. It doesn’t matter if you watched the events unfold live on TV halfway across the country, were in New York City that morning, or went on to fight in the wars. We owe it to the younger generations to tell them about this world-changing event from a personal perspective, and how significantly it changed our society.

They should know about the never-before-seen show of national patriotism and unity in the days, weeks and months following 9/11, and how that unity slowly broke down as the country seemed to split down the middle ideologically with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The world has changed so significantly since that day. In some ways better and in many ways worse. However, despite our nation’s persistent troubles — many of which trace back to that fateful Tuesday in September — it’s our duty to honor those who lost their lives that day, or fighting in the battles after it, by telling the story from our personal perspectives.

And, as we all said in the days, weeks and months after 9/11 — we should “Never forget.”

The Big Little Guy Who Changed My Life

My outlook on life completely changed nine months ago.

The reason was Grant Bennett Monke. He came into our lives last September as a 9-pound, 22-inch newborn baby.

Now he’s a 31 inches, 22 pounds and is a speed-crawling cruiser who leads us on many chases around the house.

Grant is a smart little charmer who loves to laugh and smile, enjoys taking apart his toys, having books read to him and then flipping through them himself.  

The news business, as some of you probably expect, is stressful. Days can be long, busy, and equal parts infuriating and invigorating. But everything changes when I walk through the front door and Grant looks up at me, smiles and says “DaDa!”

As I celebrate my first Father’s Day today with Grant and my wife, Sarah, it’s amazing to reflect on the changes we’ve had to make in our lives because of this big little guy.

The first three months went pretty well. Aside from a couple get-thrown-in-the-deep-end moments, Grant was great as an infant. He even flew on an airplane like a champ over the New Year’s holiday.

After that, things got more interesting. We watched as his personality started to form and he lit up the lives of everyone around him.

Now, as he starts making that transition to toddlerhood, we’re able to incorporate him into the lives we lived before he came around.

Going to events like Friday’s Bakken BBQ are still fun. They’re just a different kind of fun. I ran into some of my single buddies who were drinking beer and carousing, while I was on the hunt for baked beans and one of the juicier porks being served because, well, that’s what Grant can eat at a BBQ.

Though my industry works on daily deadlines, there’s times when I have to drop everything and rely on my wonderful staff because Grant needs to be taken to an appointment or picked up from day care. (Special shout-out to Holly for doing an excellent job!)

Then there’s times like last week, when Sarah had to go on a four-day work training trip and I’m left trying to balance work in an election week and being a dad to a teething 9-month-old. Thankfully, Grandma was available on Election Night to help pick up some slack.

But it’s all worth it, because being a dad is fun. Though there are some nearly sleepless nights — including a couple last week — and some very, very costly purchases that go along with having a kid, especially one that has grown nine inches in nine months, being a father is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

The most exciting stuff is what you learn along the way.

I’ve discovered “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” or “Paw Patrol” and a remote control without batteries, or even a water bottle, can create a perfect 30-second distraction.

Sarah has taught me the beauty of strategic interior decorating, wherein a brick fireplace can still work for the room despite being covered with padded alphabet tiles, and how arranging our couches just right can create the perfect play area.

I know now that if I want to make my son laugh, I only need to spin him around, or bust out a rhyme or a funny word. For some reason, the word “explosion” said in just the right way makes Grant double over with laughter.

Grant doesn’t stop learning, either. He started talking a couple months ago and knows a few words.

He’s learned that Go-Go Squeeze, Cheerios and pancakes are pretty awesome. Almost simultaneously, he found out that his dog, Noodle, will eat just about anything he drops to him.

Everyone says having a child changes your life. And it obviously does. But really, it’s how one chooses to raise their children that determines what kind of a parent they really are.

Me? I choose to be the best dad I can, whether that’s running to Wal-Mart at 10 p.m. for diapers, working until midnight on a Thursday so I can spend time with Grant on the weekend, or simply being there for him when he needs me or getting him the things he wants and needs.

Because I cannot imagine a life that Grant’s not a part of.