White Earth sets two-year moratorium on new feedlots within its boundaries, including northern Becker County

Saying that "proposed factory farming operations on or near the reservation,” threaten health, water and economic security, the Tribal Council on Nov. 18 imposed a moratorium.

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DETROIT LAKES — The White Earth Tribal Council has passed a two-year moratorium on confined animal feedlots within the boundaries of the reservation, which includes 12 of Becker County’s 37 townships.

The reservation also includes all of Mahnomen County and part of Clearwater County.

Citing concerns over health and safety, water and land resources, and economic security in White Earth “being threatened by proposed factory farming operations on or near the reservation,” the Tribal Council passed a resolution on Nov. 18 “to impose a moratorium on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and Animal Feedlot Operations (AFOs) constituting environmental hazards,” according to a White Earth news release.

“There are several large factory farms around the edges of the reservation,” it continues, “and a massive 21,000-head dairy cattle feedlot has been proposed by Riverview LLP, just three-quarters of a mile west of the Reservation.”

The Riverview operation proposes to spread half of the manure it will produce on reservation land. In addition, a new large swine feedlot has been proposed within the exterior boundaries of the reservation – in Spring Creek Township in Becker County.


Becker County earlier put a one-year moratorium on new feedlots, but approved the Spring Creek feedlot (pending approval of a road agreement) because the zoning request came in prior to the county moratorium.

White Earth says it has the right to protect water resources inside its boundaries, which include 530 lakes, 300 miles of rivers and streams, 167,878 acres of wetlands and substantial groundwater resources contained in shallow, unconfined and deeper, layered aquifers.

The proposed Riverview dairy cattle operation alone would produce over a million pounds of manure per day, according to the news release. “These extremely large factory farms also use high-capacity wells that pump tens of millions of gallons of water per year,” the release states. The proposed dairy cattle operation has asked the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for a permit to take 325 million gallons of water per year from the Wild Rice River, in addition to 40-50 million gallons per year from groundwater.

The purpose of the two-year moratorium is to give White Earth time to carry out an interdisciplinary process of data collection, review, analysis and regulatory and technology development in order to regulate large feedlots “in a manner that protects the band’s core interests related to human health, natural resource protection and economic security,” according to the news release.

The two-year moratorium kicked in on Nov. 18, when it was approved 4-0 by the White Earth Reservation Business Committee, informally known as the tribal council.

The tribal ordinance defines a concentrated animal feeding operation as one that holds 700 or more dairy cows, 1,000 veal cows, 1,000 head of other types of cattle, 2,500 swine 55 pounds or heavier, or 10,000 swine under 25 pounds.

It also applies to facilities that hold 500 or more horses, 10,000 sheep or lambs, 55,000 or more turkeys, 30,000 laying hens/broilers, 125,000 chickens, 82,000 laying hens or 5,000 or more ducks.

The definition for an Animal Feedlot Operation involves about a third fewer animals.


White Earth claimed authority to impose the moratorium from its “inherent powers of a limited sovereignty which has never been extinguished,” according to the ordinance, “and has plenary and exclusive power over its members and territory subject only to limitations imposed by federal law.”

The ordinance cites United States vs. Wheeler (1978) and Worcester vs. Georgia (1832) as the applicable federal cases.

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