Opposition forms to proposed N.D. conservation fund

Farm Forum

FARGO, N.D. – A coalition spearheaded by a statewide business group is preparing to mount a campaign against a proposed North Dakota conservation fund ballot measure.

The Greater North Dakota Chamber and others plan to launch what will be called North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation early next year, Chamber President Andy Peterson told The Fargo Forum newspaper.

The proposal backed by a coalition of conservation groups would set aside 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction taxes for a fund to benefit water, wildlife and parks projects. That would raise about $150 million during the next two-year budget period, much more than the current fund that is capped at $30 million.

Backers of the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Fund – who are trying to collect 26,904 petition signatures to get the measure on the Nov. 5, 2014, ballot – said significantly greater measures are needed to protect the state’s air, water and land because of unprecedented oil and gas development and the rapid loss of conservation acres on farms. They also said public opinion polls show broad support for a bigger conservation fund.

Opponents said the state already provides tens of millions of dollars for conservation efforts, and they worry that a bigger fund would take away from other critical needs without input from the Legislature.

‘‘It will set a precedent for our state,’’ Peterson said. ‘‘I just don’t want this to be successful.’’

Other opponents include: the North Dakota League of Cities; the North Dakota Association of Counties; the North Dakota School Boards Association; the North Dakota Farm Bureau; North Dakota Grain Growers; North Dakota Corn Growers; the North Dakota Petroleum Council; and the Lignite Energy Council.

Conservation groups supporting the proposed amendment include: Pheasants Forever; Ducks Unlimited; The Nature Conservancy; The National Wildlife Federation; and the Audubon Society.