The Outdoor Heritage Fund Is A Bad Idea

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I have a column in today’s Grand Forks Herald (also published in the Ashley Tribune, the Barnes County Independent, the Bowman County Pioneer and the North Dakota Free Press) about the proposed Outdoor Heritage Fund which would divert a portion of the state’s oil tax revenues into a fund for conservation.

An excerpt:

Conservation is an area that not all agree upon. So, conservation programs and appropriations ought to come before the scrutiny of our elected lawmakers, not be pushed off onto a board of unelected appointees.

If the state needs conservation, we should have a debate about that through the legislative process. The creation of this board short-circuits that process and guarantees that tens of millions of dollars will be spent on conservation with little debate and whether the state needs it or not.

I’ve gotten no small amount of feedback on my opposition to this fund. Republican legislators support it. The Dalrymple administration supports it, with Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley being particularly outspoken in favor of it. There is a laundry list of interest groups in the state who back it including the Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, Stockman’s Association, Grain Growers Association, Lignite Energy Council, Petroleum Marketer’s Council, MDU Resources, Basin Electric, North American Coal, The Bismarck-Mandan Chamber, The North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, the ND Rural Electric Cooperatives, Ducks Unlimited, the North Dakota Soil Conservation Service, the North Dakota Conservation Trust, the North Dakota Soybean Growers and others.

But what’s motivating this push is less support for the idea itself, I think, but rather fear over what voters might be convinced to pass on the ballot in the next election. An iteration of this idea which would have been on the last statewide ballot were it not for petition fraud perpetrated by a group of NDSU football players would have been far worse, with no cap on funds, fewer restrictions on the use of those funds and little oversight by elected leaders.

Much of the support for the version of this idea before the legislature stems from a desire to head off a much worse idea on the ballot (which in and of itself might be an argument for some of the initiated measure reforms also being considered by the legislature). They want to do something not-as-bad before something worse gets pushed on the state.

Yet, that doesn’t change what a poorly thought out law this is. The long-term repercussions of enshrining conservation activism in state government are enormous. Issues like conservation should be debated by legislators, not given automatic appropriations.

This isn’t a question of whether we should do conservation in the state, or how we do it, but rather how we go about having that debate. If the Outdoor Heritage Fund is created, there won’t be a debate at all.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • WOOF

    “I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences

    And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses

    I can’t look at hovels and I can’t stand fences

    Don’t fence me in”
    Roy sings trigger dances
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLoYFvbR0XY

  • Thresherman

    Oh good. Another entity that can bid for land with a bottomless bank account that private individuals can never hope to match.

  • http://nofreelunch.areavoices.com/ Kevin Flanagan

    This is just another political slush fund like all the others.

  • borborygmi

    It sounds as if there has been a debate or ongoing debate on the formation of the board of appointees which means by association Conservation is also being discussed. How can you claim that there isn’t any debate. It looks like when you peruse the long list of groups supporting this formation that this is another Rob ‘Don Quixote’ Ports ” I don’t like it, even though a vast majority support it, so it can’t be right” fruitless tilts…. oh well ;your time your dime…..

  • Captjohn

    The legislature has a duty to appropriate money that accrues to the general fund. Oil tax revenue is general fund revenue. Unless they intend to amend the constitution which would take a constitutional measure put on the ballot and voted on by the voters I don’ t think they can set aside the money to be spent without an appropriation. I am still amazed how cavalier the elected officials take the words of our constitutions. President Obama and some Senators and Congressman ignore our national constitution. Now we witness it at the state level. Fairly soon we can erase the documents because no one cares.
    I always thought the legislature was the peoples branch of goverment. They are elected to watch over the peoples money (General Fund). Where did they lose their will to carry out their responsibilites?

  • joeb

    Maybe I’m missing something, here. We have National Parks, State Parks, BLM Lands, Wildlife Conservation Areas, Wildlife Refuges, etc. Do we need to allocate more tax money for the ultimate purpose of taking more land and making it nonproductive? Do we need to pay our money to have people cook up encumbrances on the use of private lands?

    Think long and hard about it, the concept of “conservation” ranges from not overharvesting deer to the UN’s Agenda 21 and the current US EPA to New Age dirtworship. Most of these agencies which have started out to address what were genuine problems have gone to become agents of overreaching nannystatism, even to the amount of water your toilet flushes.

    If there is a problem, it should be handled by the legislature, not bureaucrats who are fundamentally unaccountable to the people and whose job and advancement depend on finding and ‘solving’ problems which may not even exist. .

  • nimrod

    So I can rent my land to my job producing neighbor for $50 per acre, or I can rent it to this bureaucracy for an unlimited amount. Can’t figure out why the farm groups would be backing it.

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