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Simon Roosevelt: Measure 5 links conservation to development

Simon Roosevelt

NEW YORK — There is greatness in the way America debates and decides its issues, even when it goes to the ballot box and a campaign is fought hard or even bitterly. In your state of North Dakota, which I know and love, and which my family has known and loved for generations, this is playing out in the campaign over Measure 5.

Two great things are at the heart of the question — two great things North Dakota has going for itself and for the country. It has the means to help power our country self-sufficiently with oil and gas — and it has some of the most beautiful and storied wild lands and wildlife in America.

It may seem that these two things are at odds in Measure 5, but they are not. The debate is over how, not whether, to use some of the value coming up from the ground to pay for the value on the surface.

The only fundamental thing amiss is the lack of agreement on how to do this.

This is what brings me to speak up: It bothers me that without a way to link the value of the one great thing to that of the other, the one is moving ahead, and the other is not. The new energy era is proceeding without new conservation efforts.

The North Dakota Legislature’s previous action to fund conservation is not working. Talks between conservation groups and energy companies either have not happened or have not been tried hard enough, so there is no joint plan from those most involved. In government, there is no consensus on the tax structure. These failures are costing us all.

The costs of failure to agree begin with the direct effects of development on the land and wildlife. More conservationists should truly embrace the benefits of development, but by the same token, developers should truly embrace active conservation efforts.

We have a duty here — one that fortunately already comes with the means of doing it — to manage the effect on the lands of the active fields, to ensure we minimize impact now and maximize options for reclamation and valuable use later.

Another cost is the lost opportunity to help the rest of the country answer the same questions. Our country pays for conservation today in basically three ways, all of which need improvement. Government spends general taxes, which in the federal budget now comes entirely from borrowing because mandatory programs expend all incoming revenue.

People and charities spend their own money on conservation, but these funds are hard to coordinate on big projects and programs that need concerted effort.

And there are specific taxes, such as the taxes on hunting and fishing equipment and supplies, and taxes on oil and gas development. But these taxes too loosely link their sources and purposes.

The hunting and fishing program, now more than 75 years running, has succeeded wonderfully, but does not pay for non-game wildlife conservation, and should not. The energy taxes — the biggest of which is the Land and Water Conservation Fund — can be diverted for any purpose and is not satisfactory even for its intended land and water purposes.

If North Dakota can help answer the question of how to link more closely the value of development with that of conservation, through Measure 5, it will be another great and timely contribution to the country.

So, what to do on Election Day? Vote for Measure 5. Put conservation in gear apace with development, and put a better idea for conservation funding to work.

This will break the stalemate that costs wildlife more than it costs development. Doing this will add to the greatness of North Dakota and America.

Roosevelt, an attorney, is a sportsman-conservationist and past board member of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. He is the great great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt.