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Viewpoint: Time for North Dakota conservation is now

It’s clear that we as a country are not doing nearly enough to protect our natural resources and support the individuals and families that rely on them. We need to be more aggressive about funding the conservation measures that our farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and wildlife rely on.

John Bradley.jpg
John Bradley, executive director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation

North Dakota has a proud tradition of engaging with our natural resources. Agricultural producers cover nearly 90% of North Dakota’s total land area, coming in at more than 39 million acres.

We lead the nation in honey production, as well as crops like spring wheat, flaxseed and canola. We have more wildlife refuges than any other state, offering opportunities for viewing and birding for North Dakota residents and tourists alike. And families across the state share a passion for hunting and fishing that have brought North Dakotans together for generations.

Today, climate change is threatening to upend those traditions. As temperatures rise and extreme weather events increase, farmers are facing more challenging conditions, posing dangers to their livelihoods. Wildlife are seeing their habitats altered or destroyed. Longtime sportsmen are seeing the fish and game that were plentiful in their childhood growing harder to find.

At the North Dakota Wildlife Federation, we’re working to support the people who rely on our natural ecosystems. We’re working to connect farmers and ranchers to the federal Conservation Stewardship Program, which helps agricultural producers promote sustainable production while safeguarding the value of their land. We’re offering support to individuals and family farms through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program so they can get the financial and technical assistance they need to implement better, more efficient practices. And we’re protecting the habitats that are critical for North Dakota’s sportsmen, from the anglers who catch fish in our rivers to the hunters who bring home deer, ducks, and pheasants.

Too often, though, we see our efforts short-circuited by a lack of funds. Individuals who come to us looking for assistance are put on a waitlist, or told that their needs cannot be met. Landowners who are trying to join programs that protect their farms for future generations are being turned down.

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It’s clear that we as a country are not doing nearly enough to protect our natural resources and support the individuals and families that rely on them. We need to be more aggressive about funding the conservation measures that our farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and wildlife rely on.

And we need to match the importance of this effort by doubling federal funding for the cause.

Action is vital now, because this challenge is only going to get worse. North Dakota is already experiencing extreme droughts and smoke from the wildfires in the West are degrading our air quality and endangering lives and livelihoods. Fish and wildlife that used to be abundant are at risk of moving to new habitats or disappearing entirely. And with the pace of residential development increasing, we could lose additional space for deer, ducks and pheasant – and a place for the sportsmen of North Dakota to pass on our hunting and angling traditions to their kids and grandkids.

Employing sustainability practices and focusing on conservation will be crucial in mitigating these impacts, but we can’t do it without an increase in funds. If we want to strengthen our agricultural producers, protect our fish and game habitats, and ensure continued recreation, we need to recognize the seriousness of the moment. We need to demonstrate our commitment to the cause. And we need to invest in the solutions that are crucial to sustainable agriculture, wildlife and recreation across our state.

North Dakotans of the future deserve to share our time-honored traditions. Family farmers should be able to pass along the fruits of their labors to future generations. Hunters and anglers should be able to take their children and grandchildren out and see abundant fish and game. The federal government has an opportunity and an obligation to make it all possible. They should act.

John Bradley is the executive director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.

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