N.D. stands at outdoor crossroad
North Dakota is at a crossroad. The direction the state takes might have as momentous and lasting impact as the great trends that shaped the state from the beginning: agriculture, drought, energy and more recently a diversifying urban economy. Decisions - private and public - made today regarding land and water stewardship will have ramifications for generations to come. If the drivers of the state's early 21st-century economy continue to erode the conservation, environment and outdoor ethic that makes the state unique, the damage to traditional values and cherished heritage will be irreversible.
Signs are clear. As hunting season gears up, hunters report significant changes: game numbers down; habitat lost; roads where there never were roads; truck traffic driving more sensitive game species off the range on which they've thrived for decades.
Carefully worded statements from the state Game & Fish Department euphemistically cite "development impacts" as among factors in the decline of game numbers and the loss of habitat and available hunting acres. They mean, of course, oil and gas activity.
On the farm, ditching, draining and tiling have accelerated to a pace never before seen in the state. Water once held on the land in sloughs and coulees as habitat and water recharge now siphons quickly into ditches and rivers. Regulation and permitting are laughable. Flooding is aggravated.
Mature shelterbelts and the habitat and soil protection they provide are being bulldozed without regard to why they were planted. Conservation Reserve Program acres are going under the plow at rapid rates - another significant loss of habitat and soil and water conservation. Game and nongame animals that have done so well because of CRP in the past 30 years disappear, too. Game and fish surveys confirm it.
The individual trends comprise profound mega-change on the landscape. Depending on perspectives and perceptions, it's fueled by the economics of agriculture and energy, or common human greed, or both. Whatever the combination of factors, the end game is yet to be played. The potential damage is yet to be honestly assessed. There is no appetite among the political class to take a critical look at the down side of a new kind of prosperity.
That's the crossroad. That's the question: Unprecedented prosperity on the farm, in oil country, in the cities - but at what cost to the land and water heritage that North Dakotans cherish. Or do they?