ND Delegation Introduces Legislation to Improve Access to State-Owned Minerals, Generate Revenue for State

Legislation Would Also Complete Tribal & Federal Ownership of Lands & Minerals within Reservations & National Grasslands

WASHINGTON – Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer and Congressman Kelly Armstrong this week introduced the North Dakota Trust Lands Completion Act, bicameral legislation to authorize the State of North Dakota to relinquish state-owned lands and minerals contained within Tribal Reservations and the Little Missouri National Grasslands to the U.S. Department of the Interior and, in exchange, receive federal land and minerals of equal value within North Dakota. Currently, North Dakota holds more than 130,000 acres of minerals and over 31,000 surface acres within Tribal Reservations alone, which are largely unavailable for development. At the same time, existing federal laws do not adequately allow for the state and federal government to exchange land and minerals.

This leaves surface and mineral rights within the National Grasslands and Tribal Reservations fragmented, while limiting the state’s ability to generate revenue from the land and minerals it owns. The North Dakota Lands Trust Completion Act would resolve this issue by allowing equal value transactions between North Dakota and the Interior Department to exchange land and mineral rights, thereby:

  • Enabling North Dakota to access the lands and minerals that were promised upon statehood to fund education and other public purposes.
  • Providing tribes greater ownership over the lands within their reservation boundaries.
  • Helping ensure future conservation of the National Grasslands.

“Federal, state and tribal land and mineral rights have long been intermixed. This has created duplicative layers of regulation, prevented North Dakota from developing the energy resources it owns and limited the state’s ability to generate revenue for education and other purposes,” said Senator Hoeven. “Our legislation helps ensure North Dakota can access the full land and mineral rights it was promised, while restoring tribal ownership over lands and minerals within reservations and enhancing conservation efforts on the National Grasslands.” 

“The federal government’s ownership of small tracts of land and minerals throughout North Dakota makes our energy development challenging. We are changing this with our bill, which authorizes land transfers and therefore eliminates unnecessary levels of regulation,” said Senator Cramer. “Our legislation ensures North Dakota can better access our natural resources, helps industry permitting efficiency, and increases revenues to the state and its education trust funds, while restoring tribal ownership and conservation of lands we have no intent to develop.”

“The comingling of federal, state, and tribal lands has long prevented North Dakota’s resources from being fully utilized,” said Congressman Armstrong. “Our bill will give the state of North Dakota and the tribes more control over lands within their jurisdiction, which will reduce the amount of duplicative regulations and benefit people across our state.” 

“The North Dakota Board of University and School Lands is grateful to the North Dakota delegation for their support of our effort to pass an act that will authorize the State of North Dakota to relinquish land grant parcels located within the reservations and the Little Missouri National Grasslands and to select other Federal land or minerals in lieu of those parcels the State of North Dakota attained at statehood. This effort will provide the Tribes greater Tribal sovereignty and control of land and minerals within the reservations. Additionally, this act will provide for greater conservation and preservation of the Little Missouri National Grasslands. This effort is a win-win solution for the State of North Dakota, the Tribes, and conservationist groups,” said Jodi Smith, North Dakota Department of Trust Lands Commissioner.

“We were glad to help shape how the draft bill would restore some Reservation land previously taken from us,” said Mark Fox, Chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. “We support its introduction and look forward to working closely with our congressional delegation and the Congress to ensure the preservation of our treaty rights to land and minerals on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.”

Valuations conducted under this legislation would be determined by Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions and the Uniform Standards for Professional Appraisal Practice. Valid existing rights will be respected in these transactions and there will be no impact on any Indian treaty rights. The full text and a summary of the legislation can be found here and here, respectively. A statement in support of the legislation from Spirit Lake Chairman Douglas Yankton can be found here.