Proposed new N.D. Outdoor Heritage Fund initiated measure to get hearing Thursday

The North Dakota Wildlife Federation and other conservation advocates in the state are asking people who care about the state’s natural resources and the wild places that remain to get behind a new proposed constitutional measure that would provide as much as $100 million annually from oil and tax revenues for conservation and habitat.

As you’ll probably recall, a similar constitutional measure was scrapped last summer after improprieties during the required petition-gathering process were found. That set the stage for a legislative option to the so-called Outdoor Heritage Amendment.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple proposed $10 million in Heritage funds in his budget, and a bill now in the Legislature, HB 1278, ups that allotment to $15 million.  Advocates say doesn’t provide nearly enough money to meet the needs that exist in the state, and they’re absolutely right. According to Mike McEnroe, legislative liaison for the Federation, the bill also has other faults, including an advisory board dominated by “ag, business and energy, anti-conservation interests and restrictions on land acquisition.”

Tuesday a proposal to put a more substantial conservation fund before voters was introduced in the form of Senate Concurrent Resolution 4027. SCR 4027 is scheduled for a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Thursday (March 7) before the Senate Natural Resources Committee, and wildlife clubs, conservation groups and others are being asked to show their support.

According to McEnroe, Ducks Unlimited, the North Dakota Natural resources Trust, the North Dakota Wildlife Federation and the North Dakota Chapter of The Wildlife Society already are scheduled to testify at Thursday’s hearing.

“We are thinking of having supporters dress in camo or safety orange for a show of support,” McEnroe wrote in an email. “This is the most important piece of legislation for conservation in years.”

Sponsors of the bill are Sens. Tyler Axness, George Sinner and Connie Triplett, and Reps. Ron Guggisberg, Scot Kelsh and Kylie Oversen. All are Democrats from either Fargo or Grand Forks.

Members of the Senate Natural Resource Committee that will be hearing the bill Thursday and their email addresses are as follows:

Stan Lyson, R-Williston, chairman, slyson@nd.gov.

Randy Burckhard, R-Minot, vice chairman, raburckhard@nd.gov.

David Hogue, R-Minot, dhogue@nd.gov.

Jessica Unruh, R-Beulah, jkunruh@nd.gov.

Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, llaffen@nd.gov.

Phil Murphy, D-Portland, pmmurphy@nd.gov.

Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, ctriplett@nd.gov.

If the road finds you in Bismarck on Thursday, make a point of attending the hearing. At the very least, contact members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and let them know your thoughts. I’d like to say I’m optimistic about the prospects of SCR 4027 passing through the Legislature (and ultimately voters), but it faces a steep uphill battle, and I’m not holding my breath.

I’d love to be proven wrong.

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