BRAD DOKKEN: Fate of N.D. oil tax conservation measure hinges on sportsmen

Minnesota arts and conservation groups faced an uphill battle in 2007 and 2008 when they campaigned on behalf of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

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Minnesota arts and conservation groups faced an uphill battle in 2007 and 2008 when they campaigned on behalf of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

The amendment, which proposed a three-eighths percent sales tax increase to fund land and water conservation, parks and the arts, had its share of detractors who questioned the need for a tax hike dedicated specifically to such "luxuries." But when the proposed constitutional amendment was put to a vote in November 2008, more than 56 percent of Minnesota voters said yes.

In fiscal year 2011, that meant about $275 million for habitat enhancement, clean water, parks and arts programs.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say hunters and anglers in Minnesota played a crucial role in getting the measure passed. Groups such as Sportsmen for Change and Vote Yes for Minnesota stumped aggressively on behalf of the amendment with websites, statewide town hall meetings and advertising campaigns. Just days before the election, sportsmen -- including legendary Minnesota Vikings Coach Bud Grant and outdoors TV personality Ron Schara -- campaigned at the Cabela's store in East Grand Forks as part of a statewide tour promoting the measure.

If sportsmen hadn't stepped up to the plate, it's very likely the measure wouldn't have passed.


The same thing needs to happen in North Dakota if a proposed Clean Water, Lands and Outdoors Heritage Amendment is going to have any chance of passing. A coalition of conservation groups, including Audubon Dakota, the National Wildlife Federation, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy, have proposed an initiated measure to amend the North Dakota constitution and dedicate 5 percent of the state's oil production taxes to protecting natural resources.

Based on projected oil revenues through 2013, that would mean about $50 million annually for North Dakota's natural resources -- assets that are coming under increasing threats from the state's burgeoning oil industry.

The measure is patterned after Minnesota's Legacy Amendment with the exception it doesn't raise taxes. But like the Legacy Amendment, it faces an uphill battle.

That's where North Dakota hunters and anglers could come into play.

The past 20 years have been "the good old days" for North Dakota's outdoors. Abundant CRP on the landscape created ideal habitat for pheasants, deer and nesting ducks. Persistent wet conditions filled lakes, rivers and wetlands, in some cases creating new fishing lakes.

That's all changing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects an additional 1 million acres of CRP will disappear this year and next. The expansion of energy production in North Dakota's Oil Patch will put even more pressure on some of the state's most wild places and habitat crucial to species such as sage grouse and bighorn sheep.

Tile drainage is gaining momentum, tree rows are being removed to clear more land for ag production and the wet cycle appears to be winding down.

The state is at a crossroads.


North Dakota sportsmen were effective at bending lawmakers' ears to reduce the number of nonresident hunters in the state. Imagine if they put the same kind of effort behind a measure to protect the good old days they've enjoyed the past two decades.

Here's their chance.

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