BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s Agriculture Department has set up a hotline to help farmers and ranchers south of the Bismarck-Mandan area who’ve been affected by protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Many producers need to finish seasonal work before winter sets in, and they’re having problems trying to find willing truck drivers and custom silage-chopping services, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said Wednesday.

“We are appealing to those who can provide these services to contact the hotline,” he said.

The protests have drawn thousands of people to the area where Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners is trying to wrap up construction on the $3.8 billion, 1,200-mile pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois. Opponents of the pipeline worry about potential impacts on drinking water on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and farther downstream, as well as destruction of cultural artifacts.

A protest camp spokesman says the notion that protesters are harassing farmers or farm workers is “not true.”

“We’ve had quite a few farmers and ranchers stop by the camp to show their support and thank us for taking a stand against Big Oil,” spokesman Cody Hall said.

Rancher Matthew Rebenitsch told The Associated Press earlier this month that many people are locking their doors and carrying guns. And Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier has said his office has received reports of people in rural areas being stopped on roads and intimidated, a claim Hall denied.

Goehring said the Farm/Ranch Emergency Assistance Hotline (701-425-8454) is aimed at helping producers and those looking for work to connect with one another. Department employees will answer calls weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and callers can leave messages on evenings and weekends.

Goehring also said the Morton County Sheriff’s Department will “assist in providing safe passage” to farmers who need it in the course of their fall work.

The protest also has drawn concern from teachers who work in nearby St. Anthony. Barry Chathams, director of the Burleigh County Special Education unit in Bismarck, said Wednesday in a letter to state Superintendent Kirsten Baesler that one of his workers was shadowed by someone in a pickup truck for 15 minutes as she tried to drive to work.

“If harassed on the way to St. Anthony, they are instructed to return to the central office,” Chathams wrote.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II issued a statement Wednesday calling for President Barack Obama to take action against the pipeline, but Archambault wasn’t specific. The chairman said Obama has the power “to change the fate” of 17 million people who stand to lose clean water.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday filed its response to the tribe’s lawsuit challenging the Corps for approving permits at 200 water crossings. The Corps said it met the requirements of numerous federal laws and did not find any significant impacts on the environment or sacred sites.

A judge has scheduled a status hearing on the case for Nov. 10.

Associated Press reporter Dave Kolpack contributed to this story from Fargo, N.D.

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