Ducks Unlimited has joined forces with other conservation
organizations, business leaders and concerned citizens to seek dedicated funding for water, land and wildlife conservation in North Dakota
. The coalition filed a petition with the secretary of state seeking a constitutional amendment to establish a Clean Water, Lands and Outdoor Heritage Fund that will receive 5 percent of the total revenues generated from taxes collected from the production and extraction of oil and gas in North Dakota. Supporters estimate the fund could generate $50 million annually.
"North Dakota is at a pivotal moment. With the state's rapid development, we have the opportunity to invest in maintaining our clean water
, our unique natural lands and our outdoors heritage," said Steve Adair, sponsoring committee chairperson and DU director of operations for the Great Plains Region. "This fund will conserve these resources while they are still intact and help improve natural flood control through the restoration and protection of natural areas along rivers, lakes and streams."
Coalition members stressed the fact that the fund will not adversely affect other programs currently funded through oil tax revenue. The measure will establish a nine-member citizen board to oversee distribution of the funds and any state agency, local government entity, tribal government or nonprofit corporation is eligible to submit a grant application for funding.
"We see the fund creating incentives for farmers, ranchers and other landowners to conserve grass and wetlands, which will keep water clean and natural areas intact," said coalition member Peggy Ladner.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 145,000 acres of North Dakota native prairie were converted to cropland between 2002 and 2007. North Dakota has lost about 1 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program habitat as well, with another 1.2 million acres scheduled to expire at the end of 2012.
North Dakota's grasslands are one of Ducks Unlimited's most critical conservation priorities. As the most productive waterfowl nesting habitat
in North America, the Prairie Pothole Region is the source of upwards of 70 percent of the continent's ducks and geese each year. As more acreage is lost, fewer opportunities exist for waterfowl to nest successfully in this region.
"North Dakota is arguably the most important state for waterfowl production in the entire country," said Adair. "Unfortunately, with the drastic land-use changes we are experiencing, North Dakota's ability to retain its natural resources and to produce wildlife at the levels the American public has come to expect will be significantly reduced without a substantial conservation investment such as this. The time to act is now, and the state has the financial resources to respond."
Once the secretary of state approves the ballot measure wording, the coalition must gather 26,904 qualified signatures before Aug. 8 to get the measure placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot in North Dakota.