Conserving for the future

The demand is quickly exceeding the supply. The North Dakota Legislature created the Heritage Outdoor Fund during their past session, setting aside up to $30 million dollars every two years to be issued as grant money for certain projects under the umbrella of conservation, agriculture and recreation.

The first round of requests totaled more than $35 million, well over the two-year approved expenditure, and there are several more application deadlines in the months ahead. It will be up to the fund’s advisory board to determine which applications will be recommended for approval by the Industrial Commission.

The fund was created following a failed attempt by outdoor interests to place an initiated measure on the November 2012 ballot. Although backers obtained enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot, the petitions were denied by the Attorney General due to a fraudulent gathering process involving some members of the North Dakota State University football team.

Consequently, the Legislature passed the Outdoor Heritage Fund which is to be paid for by state oil and gas production revenue. The amount, $30 million, is significantly less than what was being proposed by those seeking an initiated measure.

“The state will be sitting on $6 billion extra at the end of 2015 and we can’t spend $100 million on conservation?” asked Mike McEnroe, North Dakota Wildlife Federation. “We need to act boldly and with some innovative thinking.”

Sportsmen’s groups and other interested parties have already begun circulating petitions aimed at putting an initiated measure on the November 2014 ballot. The measure would create a Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Fund that would receive five percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenue each year. It is estimated such a fund could raise about $75 million dollars annually.

In the meantime, members of the Outdoor Heritage Fund must begin sorting through the first batch of grant requests 76 of them. The requests range from what many would consider traditional-type conservation programs to those that would serve a somewhat different purpose.

Among the requests is one from Carrington in the amount of $13,000 for a new restroom and shelter facility on their golf course. Munich wants $45,000 for playground equipment, Burlington $7,500 to connect water and sewer to a FEMA trailer and bathroom at Old Settler’s Park and Beulah $35,000 to replace current playground equipment at their Lions Park.

Devils Lake wants $49,850 to clear a trail system through the snow on Devils Lake. Minot’s YMCA is asking for $50,000 to go toward the creation of a community fitness park to be located adjacent to their facility.

Another request comes from the Minot Park District which is seeking $634,000 to develop Centennial Park for “hiking, biking, public fishing access and conserving urban wildlife habitat.” The proposed Centennial Park would be located along the Souris River south of the Jack Hoeven baseball complex.

North Dakota Natural Resources Trust has applied for the largest grant, $3.75 million for a Working Lands Partnership program.

“It is a big idea that has been under discussion for a long time. I call it the North Dakota version of land conservation. Very simple. Very straightforward, easy to deal with and a lot less rules and regulations than at the federal level,” said Keith Trego, Natural Resources Trust.

When asked about the first round of grant requests, Trego said it was “quite a diversity and a huge challenge” for members of the fund committee.

“The interest in the Heritage Fund underlines what we’ve been saying for a long time,” added Trego. “There is a huge demand and need. Any investment is good.”

Additional application deadlines for Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars next year are April 1, Aug. 1 and Nov. 1. Application forms can be found on the North Dakota Industrial Commission website.