BISMARCK - The North Dakota we know and love is disappearing. We have lost 75 percent of our grasslands and 50 percent of our wetlands. Conservation Reserve Program acreage is down by more than 2 million acres in North Dakota since 2007.
Deer licenses are the lowest they’ve been since the 1980s, sage grouse are counted in dozens, and pheasant harvest continues to nose dive.
We have to stop losing North Dakota’s outdoor heritage for our sons, daughters and grandchildren - and Measure 5 is one of the tools we need to turn the tide. That is why I am urging North Dakotans to vote Yes on 5.
As the habitat goes, so goes the wildlife. That’s the law of nature and is scientifically proven. For our decreasing wildlife numbers to increase, we will need to take bold steps, and Measure 5 is one of those.
Hunters and anglers cannot stay silent when a solution is available. Measure 5 will put dollars into the hands of North Dakota farmers and ranchers to voluntarily conserve grasslands and wetlands, improve soil health, provide more public access and plant buffer strips to filter water running into our lakes and rivers.
Our Private Land Open To Sportsmen program also would benefit greatly from passing Measure 5. I have watched our PLOTS involvement shrink dramatically over time due to its never having enough funding for landowners. The funds from the voluntary grant program in Measure 5 could be used to increase this sportsmen-and-landowner partnership program.
The fact is that in a state where 95 percent of our hunting lands are privately held, Measure 5 would be the rare tool to help increase hunting access without raising taxes or needing to buy land.
Measure 5 also could mean the difference between maintaining our world-class habitat and wildlife or watching our hunting heritage disappear. Our neighbors in Iowa and Minnesota have shown us what happens to wildlife and recreation when the habitat is gone. Let’s not repeat their mistakes.
We cannot expect to turn this around without providing the incentives for more choices for landowners. Those of us who have spent our careers in conservation know farmers and ranchers are very interested in participating in conservation programs; but there’s just never enough money.
Measure 5 could meet the need.
This type of program is not precedent setting. In fact, 33 other states have programs similar to this for their own conservation needs.
North Dakota needs to take this unique opportunity to use such a small portion of our oil and gas extraction tax to help hunters, anglers and other outdoor recreationists.
If hunters and anglers do not become more vocal, we stand to lose for good much of the world’s best nesting habitat, fishing opportunities and outdoor recreation. I have watched our state’s budget for years, and we have never been in a better financial position to do what’s right.
Landowners, hunters and anglers who want conservation programs and recreational opportunities must ask their friends and neighbors to vote Yes on 5. Honestly, the oil and gas production we’ve seen over the past five years has blessed our state with additional revenue, and we weren’t quite sure how to apply it to conservation.
That is nothing to be ashamed of; and in fact, we should be proud of our state’s culture of being frugal and conservative.
But we owe it to the next generation to take care of North Dakota before it’s too late.
Having worked with several governors, attorneys general and agriculture commissioners, I know them all to understand the need for having a strong conservation ethic in North Dakota. Our economy depends on this, with about $1.4 billion being spent each year on tourism in the state.
That is why I trust the three elected officials to make sound decisions on the voluntary grant applications that make it to their desks.
I urge Herald readers to join me in supporting Measure 5 at the ballot box. It isn’t every day we have this chance to work collaboratively with our state’s private landowners to conserve North Dakota’s future.