In the superheated atmosphere of the 2014 debate over ballot Measure 5 – which would have created an oil tax revenue slush fund for conservation groups – a number of agriculture organizations cried foul over a partnership between the federal government and the sponsors of Measure 5. Specifically Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants forever.
It seems both DU and PF have been providing staff to the Natural Resources Conservation Service and, in a more recent revelation by way of an open records request from your humble author, it turns out the State of North Dakota has been picking up some of the tab for those employees as well.
Farm groups and some lawmakers are, understandably, perturbed about this situation. “We’re giving money to the same people who are stabbing us in the back,” Rep. Mike Brandenburg (R-Edgely) told me last week.
So what to do? Rep. Kevin Cramer, who has also been an outspoken critic of the status quo is backing a solution which has been proposed by a number of agriculture groups.
You can read Cramer’s press release below, as well as a letter he sent to NRCS chief Jason Weller here, but basically what has been proposed is an end to DU and PF employees working for the feds. To replace that arrangement, the feds could work with local Soil Conservation Districts (which are overseen by elected officials here in North Dakota) who could then accept funding from nonprofit groups like DU and PF.
That puts an end to DU and PF employees working directly for the federal government in an official capacity, and gives loops in some oversight from local elected officials who are accountable to the people, while still leaving the door open to monetary support from groups like DU and PF if they choose to provide it.
Seems like a good compromise to me, though according to this Ag Week article DU and PF “haven’t yet committed to the concept but have expressed interest.”
Ag groups including the North Dakota Farm Bureau, the North Dakota Farmer’s Union, and the North Dakota Grain Growers Association are behind the proposal which comes after a previous agreement, brokered by Senator John Hoeven, was rejected by these same agriculture groups for, in their minds, accomplishing very little.
The response from DU and PF will speak volumes. If this really was just about promoting conservation you’d think they’d go along with the compromise. If it isn’t, if it was really about exerting control over conservation policy through backdoor arrangements, they will rebuff the deal.