A coalition has filed a constitutional initiated measure petition with the North Dakota Secretary of State that would establish dedicated funding for water, land and wildlife conservation in North Dakota.
“North Dakota is at a pivotal moment. With the state’s rapid development, we have the opportunity now to invest in maintaining our clean water, our unique natural lands and our outdoors heritage,” said, Steve Adair, sponsoring committee chairperson. “This fund will conserve these resources while they are still intact and help improve natural flood control through the restoration and protection of natural areas along rivers, lakes and streams.”
The constitutional amendment will establish a Clean Water, Lands and Outdoor Heritage Fund that will receive five percent of the total revenues generated from taxes collected from the production and extraction of oil and gas. Supporters estimate the fund could generate $50 million annually, based on current state oil production and price projections.
“This measure will provide meaningful conservation tools and programs that will protect and restore habitat throughout North Dakota,” said coalition member Peggy Ladner, who also oversees The Nature Conservancy's work in North Dakota.
Coalition partners stressed the Clean Water, Lands and Outdoor Heritage fund will not adversely affect other programs currently funded through oil tax revenue. The measure will establish a nine-member citizen board to oversee the distribution of the fund. Any state agency, local government entity, tribal government or non-profit corporation is eligible to submit a grant application for funding. The measure also calls for all project funds to be only spent in North Dakota to benefit North Dakota’s natural resources. The purposes for the fund include protecting water quality, improving flood control, and conserving habitat for wildlife and people.
“We see the fund creating incentives for farmers, ranchers and other landowners to conserve grass and wetlands, which will help keep water clean and natural areas intact,” Ladner said.
“We North Dakotans tend to take our quality of life for granted – our clean water, open spaces, and abundant wildlife,” said Keith Trego, sponsoring committee member. “The things that we grew up with are not going to be here unless we take action.”
Trego pointed to the loss of Conservation Reserve Program and native prairie acres across the state. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 145,000 acres of North Dakota native prairie were converted to cropland between 2002 and 2007. North Dakota has lost about 1 million acres of CRP, and another 1.2 million acres are scheduled to expire by the end of 2012.
Once the Secretary of State approves the ballot measure wording, the coalition must gather 26,904 qualified signatures before August 8, 2012, in order for the measure to be placed on the November 6, 2012, general election ballot.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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