INFORUM.com | WDAZ.com

WDAY: The News Leader

Published August 13, 2013, 08:43 AM

Proposal would dedicate North Dakota oil money to conservation

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Conservation advocates are resurrecting a proposed ballot initiative that would set aside a bigger slice of North Dakota's mushrooming oil revenues for an outdoor heritage fund.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Conservation advocates are resurrecting a proposed ballot initiative that would set aside a bigger slice of North Dakota's mushrooming oil revenues for an outdoor heritage fund.

The Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment would set aside 5 percent of the state's oil extraction tax, which totaled $880 million last year. The amount has more than quadrupled since 2008.

At the 2012 level, the proposed 5 percent set-aside would generate $44 million per year for conservation efforts, The Forum newspaper reported.

Supporters are still working on proposed ballot language but expect to begin circulating petitions in September to collect the 40,000 signatures needed to place the initiative on the November 2014 ballot.

Advocates say the landscape in North Dakota is under unprecedented pressure from oil and gas development and a loss of land dedicated to wildlife habitat because of high market prices that are encouraging more crop production.

"I think the needs in North Dakota are huge and I think the measure-dedicated funding will help us protect very important areas like the Badlands for our kids and grandkids," said Peggy Ladner of The Nature Conservancy, one of six organizations sponsoring the proposal.

If approved, the fund could help expand areas set aside for parks and recreation, including trails. It also could help create wildlife habitat and improve water quality and restore wetlands, Ladner said.

A similar proposal was derailed last year by a petition fraud scandal that involved faked signatures. It would have set aside 5 percent of both the oil extraction and oil production tax, collecting more than $80 million annually. Opponents of that proposal said they feared it would divert money from education, health and road construction needs.

By leaving the oil and gas production tax untouched, the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment would not compete with funding to pay for infrastructure needs in the oil patch, said Keith Trego, executive director of the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust.

A new Outdoor Heritage Fund approved earlier this year by the North Dakota Legislature can collect up to $15 million per year by setting aside 4 percent of the first 1 percent of the oil and gas production tax. The fund is expected to collect more than $17 million over the next two years.

"Unfortunately, the huge landscape changes require more resources than the Legislature appropriated," the conservation coalition said in a mass mailing seeking volunteers to gather petition signatures.

Tags: