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Politics & Government

Coalition opposing conservation ballot measure

Dave Thompson
Prairie Public

A coalition calling itself “North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation” says it opposes a proposed Constitutional measure to set-aside oil tax money for conservation.

The Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment would set aside five percent of the oil extraction tax to pay for conservation projects.

"We do not believe this is the right measure to enhance our conservation efforts in North Dakota," said Bismarck-Mandan Chamber president Kelvin Hullet. He says groups representing industry, business, agriculture and local governments have formed the coalition.

"North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation believes the responsible approach isn't about putting conservation ahead of such things as education, infrastructure, property tax relief, health and human services and other needs," said Hullet. "It's about finding a balance."

Hullet says the current Heritage fund – which set aside $30-million for conservation projects – is the better way to go.

North Dakota Farmers’ Union president Mark Watne says his organization doesn’t like language in the measure that would allow wildlife or other non-profit groups to purchase land for conservation purposes.

"We believe that land needs to be in the hands of family farmers and ranchers," said Watne. "If these groups are allowed to buy farm land, it's going to drive up land prices, and make it harder for agriculture to compete."

A representative of the groups who want to put the conservation measure on the statewide ballot say North Dakota ranks near the bottom of states – when it comes to spending on conservation programs.

"North Dakota currently ranks 42nd in the nation interms of conservation and parks and recreation spending," said Ducks Unlimited's Eric Lindstrom. "It's less than 1.5 percent of the entire state budget."

Lindstrom says when one looks at the economic return, it's a good investment.

Supporters of the Constitutional measure are still looking for signatures to get it on the November ballot.

Lindstrom says supporters have collected about a third of the 27-thousand signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot. He says they hope to have 40-thousand in hand by the August first deadline.

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