Use matching funds to boost Outdoor fundThat’s the way policy is supposed to work. And that’s the way it can work, if North Dakota lawmakers consider the problem of an Outdoor Heritage Fund that’s likely to be too poor to make a difference — and a solution that could draw millions of dollars into the fund from lovers of North Dakota’s outdoors.
By: Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
That’s the way policy is supposed to work. And that’s the way it can work, if North Dakota lawmakers consider the problem of an Outdoor Heritage Fund that’s likely to be too poor to make a difference — and a solution that could draw millions of dollars into the fund from lovers of North Dakota’s outdoors.
Let’s start with the “problem” of the fund.
First, the word is in quotes because the fund isn’t really a problem at all. It’s terrific: As presented by Gov. Jack Dalrymple in his budget proposal, the fund would “set aside 4 percent of the state’s oil and gas production tax revenue to fund conservation projects,” as The Associated Press reported.
That’s a farsighted and much-needed effort, as North Dakotans know who’ve watched as their park lands, grasslands and Badlands get illuminated by gas flares and take on an industrial glow.
And judging by lawmakers’ positive reception — the co-sponsors of House Bill 1278 are Majority Leader Al Carlson and the chairman of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee — the bill is a great bet to pass.
The problem comes with the next sentence in the AP story: “The fund would be capped at $15 million annually.”
Because unfortunately, that’s not enough.
Steve Adair explains why. Adair is Great Plains director for Ducks Unlimited, and on Thursday, he testified in front of the House committee.
“House Bill 1278 is a step in the right direction and recognizes that we must act now,” Adair said.
But the funding “will only scratch the surface of the conservation need in the state.”
Not only is western North Dakota under unprecedented pressure from industrial development, but also federal conservation dollars are drying up. For example, North Dakota has lost 1.5 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program land just since 2007.
Contrast that with the land area that the Outdoor Heritage Fund would comparably protect: Only 27,000 acres a year, a parcel just over 6 miles on a side.
So, “if our goal is to conserve one-half (1.7 million acres) of what the federal CRP acreage was at its peak (3.4 million acres), it would take more than 50 years to come close to reaching our goal,” Adair said.
“There’s the adage, ‘You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,’” he continued.
“Can we truly look ourselves in the mirror and say that our children and grandchildren will have the same opportunities to enjoy the unique natural areas and outdoor experiences that we have?”
If the answer is “no,” then here’s the solution for lawmakers to consider: North Dakota should supplement the fund with a matching grant program, one that would let individuals and groups donate with the promise of a state match.
The governor already has proposed such a program to build up the state universities’ endowments. It’s a great idea, and extending it to the Outdoor Heritage Fund would inspire outdoor enthusiasts of all ages to give.
The program would have all kinds of advantages. It would pump up the fund, but at a tremendous discount for taxpayers compared with, say, Fargo Rep. Scott Kelsh’s proposal, which simply would boost the Heritage Fund’s limit to $100 million.
It would let the fund’s managers identify North Dakota’s special places, and then campaign for donations to protect them.
And it would “frack” a funding source whose dollars right now are bound up in Century Code rock: conservation groups. Ducks Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy and similar groups want to protect land, but North Dakota law seldom lets them do so. The Outdoor Heritage Fund would give them an outlet, and the matching grants would convince them their dollars would go far.
Donations helped build the Statue of Liberty; a kindergarten class in Davenport, Iowa, sent $1.35. Let’s remember that example, picture the state we want to leave for future generations — and make it easy for North Dakotans to give to protect their wild lands.