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LETTER: CWWPA won’t protect our precious resources

As a life-long resident of rural North Dakota and a professional in the environmental field, I have spent my entire life caring about our state’s outdoors and natural resources. I’m committed to preserving the land and protecting our wildlife populations, which is why I’m a board member on the Mercer County Soil Conservation District and monitor the health of wildlife populations on reclaimed lands. I understand that North Dakota’s natural resources are precious and need to be protected, but the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment (CWWPA), a movement that is largely funded by out-of-state environmental groups, is not the way to do it.

The CWWPA would create a massive fund of $150 million per year that would be required to be spent—about $3 million every week—on projects in the name of conservation, with very little restrictions. This is mandated spending that could otherwise be used in areas like education and infrastructure, but will instead be available for placing long-term easements on North Dakota farmland and taking land away from our farmers and ranchers and out of production.

Recently, supporters of the CWWPA have been quick to point to decreased wildlife populations as a sign that North Dakotans need this mandated spending in our Constitution. But CWWPA supporters often fail to mention that wildlife populations are much more affected by weather conditions than by the development occurring here in our state. Different populations of animals react differently to different conditions, be it consecutive harsh winters or an untimely cold spring rain. Despite the challenges of unpredictable weather so common to North Dakota, duck populations are 43 percent higher than their historical average since 1955, pheasant hunters bagged 100,000 more pheasants in 2012 than in 2002, and deer populations impacted by disease are on the rise.

North Dakotans have always recognized the need to provide protected areas for our wildlife. In fact, North Dakota has 63 National Wildlife Refuges (more than any other state) and 11 Wetland Management Districts that provide protected breeding grounds for all kinds of wildlife, accounting for hundreds of thousands of acres and 39 percent of the nation’s waterfowl production areas.

North Dakotans know and understand the value of our natural resources. That’s why the North Dakota legislature created the Outdoor Heritage Fund during the last legislative session. It was created to protect our land and wildlife populations without the influence of out-of-state groups pushing their national environmental agenda. It was created by North Dakotans concerned about North Dakota. That’s the approach we should take to conservation—a homegrown approach.

I hope my constituents and all North Dakotans will join me in rejecting the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment.

Senator Jessica Unruh

Unruh is a North Dakota senator of District 33