Mark Owens: Conservation Measure Is A Bad Idea


I read with interest Rep. Kylie Oversen’s recent letter expressing her support for the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment. My hope was to read an objective, fact-based benefit of the proposed amendment, and yet it had none. I agree that “we have big decisions to make that will shape the future of our landscape for generations to come,” but limiting both the discussion and planning to this narrow view of conversation represents a highly restricted view of the future for North Dakota.

Let’s review this measure. While detailing who has the review authority, it is long on promises and short on details when it comes to the amount of money its “Board of Directors” not only will have to spend but MUST spend each biennium. Regardless of whose numbers you use, from $90 million to $300 million, it is this required spending that should cause the greatest alarm. While it laundry lists a host of “possible” uses for the money, from flood control to protecting the state’s clean water and natural resources without specifics on how the amounts will be determined for each, the measure only says the funding will be used for “conservation” and buying land.

The purchasing of land appears to be without regard to any limits on the number of acres or price the fund is willing to pay. This, coupled with the requirement to spend at least 75 percent of the fund annually, creates a number of future problems that will affect EACH and EVERY North Dakotan. First, just the issue of purchasing land without regard to limits on price or size has the potential to drive up land values. Second, this new land will leave the tax rolls as state land, shifting the tax burden. This will create a doubling of the tax effect – first, an increase in taxes for higher land values and second, for less land on the tax rolls. Additionally, it will reduce the production of the state’s agricultural commodities and those North Dakotans who remain in farming. Finally, it would be the first-ever specific spending measure enshrined in our state constitution. Financial earmarks like this have no place in our constitution.

This earmarking of funds is designed to create a priority of spending that places conservation above infrastructure, roads, education, health, jobs, and the list goes on. As a number of our citizens welcome the recent growth in both population and the economy, they are fighting this unprecedented growth every day to maintain their own life style. This measure openly seeks to extend the problems in the west for years to come!

I love North Dakota. I love our state’s great outdoors. I don’t know anyone who would argue against protecting our state’s wildlife habitat and outdoor heritage, but it needs to be done through a well-planned and financially responsible approach. This Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment is neither.

I cannot support a constitutional measure that is so fundamentally flawed and wrong for our state.