Kelvin Hullet: Conservation groups walked away from coalition

BISMARCK -- I am glad to see that Herald columnist Lloyd Omdahl agrees with the legitimate issues of concern about the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment ("Conservation measure needs honest discussion," column, Page A4, April 28). As Omdah...

Kelvin Hullet


BISMARCK - I am glad to see that Herald columnist Lloyd Omdahl agrees with the legitimate issues of concern about the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment (“Conservation measure needs honest discussion,” column, Page A4, April 28).

As Omdahl writes, “the more important ones are the amount of money being diverted, locking the program in the state constitution, requiring the expenditure of the money, and the initial 25-year life of the program.”

North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation is a diverse coalition with more than 30 industry, agriculture, business and government organizations uniting to oppose this measure because of the concerns expressed by Omdahl. These concerns illustrate why the measure is wrong for North Dakota.

But I must set the record straight on a few points in Omdahl’s column.


First, the conservation groups were not “stonewalled” by the 2013 Legislature. In fact, the conservation groups, represented by Ducks Unlimited and the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust Fund, were part of the coalition that drafted the Outdoor Heritage Fund legislation.

Leading into the 2013 legislative session, representatives of agriculture, conservation, energy, business and recreation met to outline a legislative solution. The day before this compromise legislation was passed by the North Dakota House, the conservation groups changed their mind.

They walked away from the coalition because the legislation did not include hundreds of millions of dollars in mandated spending, did not let them buy land and created a diverse steering committee as opposed to one dominated by conservation activists.

The conservation groups turned their backs on the very stakeholders who worked with them to create compromise legislation and who championed it during the 2013 session.

Today, North Dakota spends $130 million a biennium on conservation. This includes $30 million for the Outdoor Heritage Fund. From just about any North Dakota taxpayer’s perspective, this is more than a “token” amount.

And, the Legislature still can appropriate more money to the fund if more is needed down the road, all while balancing the many other needs of the state. In addition, the advisory board can leverage the funding by giving preference to projects with matching or in-kind funding.

Omdahl is right: We do need to have an honest discussion about a proposal that would create a new section in the constitution that mandates spending 75 percent to 90 percent of the funds. Based on projected oil production rates of 1.2 million barrels a year and a price of around $100 per barrel, 5 percent of the oil extraction tax comes to some $300 million a biennium.

It is hard to dispute the math and use a lesser projection. That’s a massive amount of money.


From our perspective, North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation has been consistent from the start. We said we would work together and create a state fund to support conservation guided by all the parties interested in conservation. We did that. We said if it worked and more funding was needed down the road, we would support more funding in future legislative sessions. We are still committed to that.

And, the agriculture groups objected to land purchases but compromised to 20-year easements for conservation projects. We have worked in good faith since the beginning of this effort.

Everyone supports long-term investments in our state’s needs, including conservation. To set the record straight, members of our coalition did what we said we would do: We helped pass a legislative solution, and we remain committed to the power of the coalition and working together.

It is unfortunate the conservation groups have decided they are the only ones who should decide how we uphold North Dakota’s outdoor heritage.

Hullet is president of the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce.

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