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HOWARD VINCENT: Conservation amendment is uniquely North Dakotan

Howard Vincent

ST. PAUL — Those of you who have been in North Dakota for a long time see it on every drive: Disappearing grasslands. Drained wetlands. Contaminated waterways. Duckless skies. Fields without pheasants and songbirds. Fewer monarchs and honeybees pollinating our crops.

With nearly 2 million acres of lands converted from wildlife habitat to production, the North Dakota we all know and love is changing before our eyes.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?

The oil boom and higher crop prices mean that North Dakota is enjoying economic growth like it’s never seen before; but that prosperity is coming at a cost, and we need to think ahead.

The question posed Pheasants Forever for this op/ed was; “After five years of Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment, what can North Dakotans learn from their neighbors’ effort?”

While the ultimate goal of natural resources conservation are the same, North Dakota’s Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment is uniquely North Dakotan. North Dakota’s amendment was built by the brightest minds in the state using the best pieces of successful models from across the country to make for a uniquely North Dakotan process that uses the good fortune the state is experiencing to provide long-term benefits for the state’s natural resources and outdoor way of life.

It’s pretty common sense in its simplicity. There’s already an oil extraction tax in place, and the amendment would direct 5 percent of it to a fund used for clean water, flood control, wildlife habitat, parks and recreation areas and outdoor education for our children.

An advisory panel will review, vet and recommend projects that should be funded based on an open, transparent process. All final funding decisions will be made by the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. North Dakotans will know exactly where the money is going and what impacts it’ll have.

It’s a direct benefit to North Dakota’s conservation-minded farmers who simply are trying to make a living. This funding source would help those farmers, ranchers and landowners who make room for conservation in any operation.

Also, dedicating funding to clean water, wildlife and parks is akin to opening a savings account for your children’s future. Funding must be in place for future generations of North Dakotans, and this gas-extraction tax is a straightforward and painless way to accomplish that goal.

And, it’ll all be done without taking away from other important needs in the state. It won’t increase North Dakotans’ taxes, and it won’t impact other critical services.

All it does is ensure that at least some of the proceeds from this remarkable economic boom get directed back to the very land that’s providing it.

But make no mistake: There are detractors who’ll tell you that out-of-state interests are behind the effort to pass this Amendment. But they won’t tell you that Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and other conservation organizations have tens of thousands of North Dakota members and employ hundreds of people across the state.

Groups like ours, who’ve been involved in North Dakota’s landscape for generations, do indeed support this amendment because we know North Dakota’s natural resources are just too special to let slip away.

North Dakota is experiencing some of the most explosive growth and prosperity in its history, and it can continue to do that while still preserving clean water, abundant wildlife and a citizenry that appreciates living life outdoors.

It’s incumbent upon every North Dakota voter to ask what the real motivations are behind the opposing groups. Remember, this amendment is built upon a simple allocation of the existing gas and oil extraction tax. All of the funds stay in North Dakota. All the funds will be used to protect the North Dakota natural resources we love.

It’s a wise investment in our collective future.  

A vote in support of this amendment come November will be a vote to save the North Dakota we all still love.

Vincent is president and CEO of Pheasants Forever, Inc.