With the rate of landscape changes at an all-time high in North Dakota, a diverse coalition of citizens interested in conservation and the outdoors has filed a constitutional initiated measure petition with the North Dakota Secretary of State that would establish permanent funding for water and land conservation, as well as parks development, in North Dakota. The measure will protect unique natural areas, like the Badlands and other state treasures, for future generations.
“Reinvesting in natural areas helps preserve our outdoor traditions, like hunting, fishing and enjoying our recreation areas with our friends and families,” said Steve Adair, sponsoring committee chairperson. The fund also aims to improve natural flood control through the restoration and protection of natural areas along rivers, lakes and streams. “Improving natural flood controls protects people, wildlife and clean drinking water,” added Adair.
The constitutional amendment will establish a permanent Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Fund that will receive five percent of the total revenues generated from taxes collected from the oil and gas extraction tax. A 13-member citizen advisory board will review grant applications and provide oversight and accountability measures to ensure all project funds are spent in North Dakota to benefit North Dakota’s natural resources. Final grant decisions will be made by a commission comprised of the Governor, Attorney General and Agriculture Commissioner.
“Five percent of the existing extraction tax is a fair and appropriate investment to prevent the loss of the great quality of life that we have in North Dakota,” Adair said.
Coalition partners stressed that the fund uses existing dollars—with no increase in taxes—and will not adversely affect other programs currently funded through oil tax revenue.
“We see the fund creating incentives for farmers, ranchers and other landowners to conserve grass and wetlands and adopt best management practices, which will help keep water clean and natural areas intact,” coalition supporter Peggy 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 appropriate 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 almost 2 million acres of CRP.
Once the Secretary of State approves the ballot measure wording, the coalition must gather about 27,000 qualified signatures in order for the measure to be placed on the November 5, 2014, 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.
Becky Jones Mahlum