Bipartisan poll shows strong support for conservation in N.D.

North Dakota residents overwhelmingly support measures to preserve and enhance the state's waters and wildlife habitat, results from a statewide survey on conservation issues show.

North Dakota residents overwhelmingly support measures to preserve and enhance the state's waters and wildlife habitat, results from a statewide survey on conservation issues show.

Conducted April 6-8 by the Republican polling firm of Public Opinion Strategies and De-mocratic pollster Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates, the survey of 400 likely voters included respondents from every county in the state and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.

The bipartisan survey was conducted on behalf of several North Dakota groups, including The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, North Dakota Natural Resources Trust and Ducks Unlimited.

Representatives from the conservation groups and Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strate-gies conducted a press conference this morning from DU regional headquarters in Bismarck to discuss findings from the survey.

According to Weigel, the survey focused on three key issues: whether voters would support dedicated funding for natural resource protection, whether voters would support allowing private landowners to sell their property to nonprofits and whether permanent easements should be considered as a tool to protect the state's wild places.


North Dakota law doesn't allow permanent easements and prohibits nonprofits from buy-ing private land without approval from a state committee that makes a recommendation on the sale to the governor.

Support for change

Based on the poll results, at least, North Dakota residents think those policies should change -- 67 percent support dedicated funding for natural resources, 85 percent favor al-lowing landowners to sell to conservation groups, 60 percent favor conservation easements and 62 percent support voluntary land preservation agreements.

Weigel said the results cut across demographic groups and geographic regions.

"It really made very little difference -- they are supportive," she said. "They are telling us that conservation is important to them personally, and they feel like the state ought to get out of the way and allow some of these tools and mechanism used in other states here in North Dakota."

Steve Adair, director of DU's Great Plains region, said North Dakota is the only state in the country that has a corporate farming law that prohibits nonprofits and perpetual easements.

"There are a lot of states around us that are enjoying those benefits and things that come from that," Adair said. "We're not in the same arena, and we should talk about it.

"The survey told us there is a disconnect between what North Dakotans want and what the state allows -- especially between easements and laws restricting rights of landowners to sell their property."


Show of passion

Keith Trego, director of the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, said the survey confirms the passion residents have for the state's outdoors heritage.

"I think it goes without saying that the landscape in North Dakota is changing rapidly, probably in a more dramatic fashion that anything we've seen since early settlement days," Trego said. "I think we're at a crossroads of sorts, a term that's probably overused but ap-propriate for where North Dakota is at right now. We're a leader in energy development, traditional and renewable and that's a good thing. It gives us a lot of points and makes us financially valuable but it doesn't come without a cost."

The challenge, he said, is to avoid jeopardizing the outdoors heritage that attracts so many people in the state in the first place.

Peggy Ladner, director of The Nature Conservancy in North Dakota, echoed that sentiment.

"We're hopeful state lawmakers will recognize stewardship of natural resources is both what the public wants and in the best interests of North Dakota, both today and in the fu-ture," Ladner said. "One of the key economic drivers in North Dakota is tourism and the quality jobs that result from that industry. Outdoor recreation opportunities, particularly through parks and trails and hunting and fishing, are an important component of that $4 billion-a-year industry."

What's ahead

So, what happens next? Genevieve Thompson, vice president and executive director of Audubon Dakota, said the survey shows the need to find some common ground with lawmak-ers and a better understanding of what North Dakotans want.


"I think when we've seen some legislative interactions in the past, those actions have not necessarily reflected what we've now discovered," Thompson said. "I think our initial foray would not be so much, 'Here's what we want,' but what we found. And what we found is there is incredible appreciation among voters for what we have here."

DU's Adair said the conservation groups hope to use the survey results to initiate a con-versation with state lawmakers, although no specific legislation has been developed.

"We're going to talk about how North Dakotans value the outdoors, how they want to con-serve their wildlife," Adair said. "We have a tendency to create, I think, false choices -- to say you can have bread or birds, you can have rural economies or conservation, you have to choose. We don't think that's true. As we talk about that conversation we want to have, we really want to concentrate on win-wins and not set up an environment where we have to choose because I think we can have both."

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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