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Farmers and ranchers: The first conservationists

Jacob Odermann

BELFIELD, N.D. — “It’s our North Dakota.” That’s a touching sentiment, one that the ad wizards behind the North Dakotans for the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment knew would have the desired effect. As a fourth generation North Dakota farmer and rancher, the message certainly tugged at my heartstrings.

But I asked myself, “What is the desired effect?”

Based on current projections, the proposed amendment would funnel about $300 million of the oil extraction tax per biennium to fund “Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks.” The fund will be managed by an appointed 13-member board. The board will consist of men and women from across the state, people who represent all walks of life and industry, including one farmer or rancher appointed by North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner.

One farmer or rancher? I did a double take. Why only one farmer or rancher?

I had the privilege of growing up on a ranch situated on the edge of one of the most ruggedly beautiful areas in the world, the North Dakota Badlands. Those of you who grew up on a farm or ranch — especially in western North Dakota — understand fully what Theodore Roosevelt once said about his time in North Dakota: “We knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst … but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins, and ours was the glory of work and the joy of living.”

Farmers and ranchers make their living off of the land, drink the water and feed their families from the fruits of that land. We know the pain of saving a calf from a snow bank at 40-below zero, just to see it die a few days later. The pain of seeing a crop flattened in minutes by the great white combine, a hailstorm.

Who better to appoint than people who work to conserve a way of life that is sown into the framework of what it is to be a North Dakotan?

So why, then, does the amendment seemingly seek to remove the power of conservation from the very people who have helped make North Dakota what it is?

The amendment states it “shall be used for grants to state agencies, tribal governments, local governments, political subdivisions and nonprofit organizations for the following purposes:”

One of the purposes reads as follows. “Conserve or acquire natural areas, parks and other recreation areas or provide access for hunting and fishing.”

Read that again: “Conserve or ACQUIRE natural areas …” No wonder Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited support this amendment. Nonprofit organizations have the ability to apply for grants worth millions of dollars. These government monies could be used directly to compete against a private citizen interested in buying land.

As a young farmer and rancher just getting a started, I don’t have that type of bankroll, nor would someone running any type of business in which the government decides to get involved.

As a farmer and rancher, as well as a devoted outdoorsman, I understand the need for continuing our outdoor heritage and providing a chance for non-landowners to experience the outdoors.

I certainly understand this aspect of outdoors. Many of my family’s closest friendships began with a knock on the door asking my grandfather or father if they could hunt.

Instead of creating a yet another commission of 13 bureaucrats in Bismarck, how about using programs already in place?

Why don’t we increase the monetary incentive to landowners to take part in programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) or North Dakota’s Private Lands Open To Sportsmen (PLOTS)? Are we looking for giant game preserves with controlled access dictated by nonprofits, or opportunities for growth in both the state’s agricultural and outdoor tourism industries?

The agricultural industry has been North Dakota’s lifeblood for generations.

The proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment is not the answer to any of the above questions, nor is it the solution to protecting our air, water and soil.

Odermann farms and ranches north of Belfield.