Preserving our state’s resources

4-1By Jon Godfread, vice president for government affairs, Greater North Dakota Chamber

As North Dakotans representing North Dakota businesses, we care deeply about the conservation of our state. With so many of our leading industries dependent upon the state’s abundant natural resources, caring for our “bread & butter” couldn’t be more important.

Home to more wildlife refuges than any other state, North Dakota’s tourism industry depends on the maintenance of our natural resources. With agriculture responsible for nearly one-fourth of North Dakota’s economic base and accounting for 25 percent of all jobs, conservation practices are at the heart of our state’s priorities. And finally, with the recent oil boom in the Bakken enhancing the profile of our state’s leadership, we are all fully aware that to sustain our economic prowess, we must protect our resources.

Our state leaders knew this when they created the Outdoor Heritage Fund in August 2013. With a board of 12 voting and four non-voting members appointed by Governor Jack Dalrymple, they developed an application process and established deadlines for five rounds of applications during the 2013-2015 biennium. In total, the Industrial Commission has awarded $14,110,400 of funding. This amount is being leveraged with other funding sources for a total of $73,337,336 being expended over the next 10 years on directives established by the legislature for the benefit of our state’s outdoor heritage.

With projects ranging from soil conservation, watershed restoration, to campground expansion, playground equipment and recreational access, the fund is serving its purpose well through meeting funding needs for diverse projects. The success of the Outdoor Heritage Fund and anticipated plans for changes to the process and funding amounts is one main reason the GNDC fought so hard against Measure 5 in the November election.

Measure 5 would have constitutionally mandated five percent of North Dakota’s oil and gas extraction tax into a fund managed by an appointed advisory board. The fund would be used for conservation purposes which would include the option to buy land with the money. The measure also came with a requirement that at least 75 percent of those dollars be spent each year.

Given the fluctuations common to the oil and gas industry, this measure would’ve been horrible for North Dakota. Our state has several transportation and infrastructure needs that would go largely unmet with money tied up in a fund like this.  To make matters worse, we’d be stuck with the plan for a minimum of 25 years considering it was proposed as a constitutional mandate. Ultimately our citizens’ voices were heard loud and clear with an 80-20 defeat of the measure. North Dakotans understood that we have a plan for conservation and that it’s working. It’s called the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

Always striving for improvement, the 64th legislative assembly heard HB 1409, which addresses funding and purposing the ND Outdoor Heritage Fund. The bill more clearly defines what the Outdoor Heritage Fund can and cannot be used for, as well as the powers of the commission. The bill also changes the gross production tax revenue credited to the Outdoor Heritage Fund from $15 to $25 million per fiscal year, and changes the maximum amount credited to the fund per biennium from $30 to $50 million.

Visit the Outdoor Heritage Fund website to learn more about the fund and how to apply for funds toward a conservation project – www.nd.gov/ndic/outdoor-infopage.htm.

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