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Steve Adair: A changing N.D. needs a strong conservation fund

FARGO -- This state we love is at one of its most defining moments in history. We must take decisive steps now to maintain our clean water and natural resources or risk losing forever some of the best reasons to live in North Dakota.

FARGO -- This state we love is at one of its most defining moments in history. We must take decisive steps now to maintain our clean water and natural resources or risk losing forever some of the best reasons to live in North Dakota.

Our state is seeing massive landscape changes. The negative impacts of these changes already are showing up in dramatically declining upland bird populations and closed seasons for iconic western species, such as sage grouse and pronghorns.

Flooding of North Dakota communities has grown into a chronic situation, and the state Game and Fish Department is warning dog owners not to let their pets drink from lakes choked with toxic algae blooms.

Our prairies are in a crisis, with grassland and wetland loss rates higher than we have seen since the Dust Bowl days, and with comparisons being made to the loss of tropical rainforests in Brazil.

In 2008, North Dakota had about 3.4 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program habitat. Today, that number has shrunk to fewer than 1 million acres.

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PLOTS or Private Lands Open to Sportsmen acreage also has contracted. Signs from land no longer in that access program literally lie in heaps.

Federal funds for many conservation programs are declining, and those programs undoubtedly will keep struggling for funding in the future.

Fortunately, North Dakotas farmers and ranchers still are highly interested in conservation incentives with programs getting more applications than dollars are available. North Dakotans also are seeing impacts from hosting one of the biggest oil fields in the world, including farm fields suffering damage, and new roads fragmenting wildlife habitat and disturbing animals trying to feed and rest.

Spilled wastewater is posing long-term threats to clean water and agricultural lands.

These huge and growing challenges require a bold program to protect North Dakota's great quality of life. The Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment would dedicate a small portion of the state's existing oil and gas extraction taxes to provide grants for state agencies, tribal governments, local governments and nonprofit organizations to:

• Protect water quality by buffering rivers, streams, lakes, grasslands, forests and wetlands.

• Improve natural flood control.

• Protect, restore or create wildlife and fish habitat through voluntary incentives for landowners, including working farms and ranchers.

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• Conserve natural areas for recreation and parks.

• Create more opportunities for children to learn about nature and the outdoors.

Citizens and elected officials on a citizen-advisory board would recommend which projects to fund, working together to make the best decisions. Then, any grants from the fund would have to be approved by a commission made up of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner.

Administrative costs would be limited to 3 percent, and the amendment would set aside at least 10 percent of these funds for future use to maintain programs when the oil boom is over.

The Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment will not interfere with dollars going to oil impacted areas and schools, does not raise taxes and cannot be used for lobbying, litigation, activities that unduly interfere with oil and gas development or development of other minerals in the state.

Also, no land purchases could occur without the approval of the governor, agriculture commissioner and attorney general.

The governor and Legislature took a first step with the Outdoor Heritage Fund, but these huge and sweeping changes require bold conservation steps now to preserve the health of our land and water.

Outdoor recreation and tourism is the third leg of North Dakota's economic stool. North Dakota's 2013-2015 state budget dedicates only 1.3 percent of our state's resources to our clean water, wildlife and parks.

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Surely, the third leg of our economic stool needs a much greater investment for the future.

North Dakotans strongly support conserving our North Dakota way of life. At this defining moment, we have a chance to maintain our great quality of life and pass it along to the next generation.

We need a serious plan to keep North Dakota North Dakota, and we need it now before we lose too much.

Please join the thousands of residents from across the state and from all walks of life who care about North Dakota and support the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment.

Steve Adair is chairman of North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks.

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