ND lawmaker: Conservation group requests outside intent of Outdoor Heritage Fund


Rob Port | North Dakota Watchdog

MANDAN, N.D. – When North Dakota state Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, introduced legislation to create the Outdoor Heritage Fund, his intent wasn’t to fund full-time employees for conservation groups.

Yet in the first round of requests being considered by the fund’s board, that’s just what some conservation groups are asking for.

CONSERVATION CONSTERNATION: Rep. Todd Porter says conservation groups are trying to cash in on new Outdoor Heritage Fund

The Outdoor Heritage Fund was approved by the Legislature last year. It allows for up to $30 million per biennium to be diverted from oil tax revenue for awards to conservation projects, with the awards overseen by a group appointed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

In an interview, Porter said the type of requests surprised him.

“The ones that really surprised me were the research and development requests from the universities,” he said. “I don’t think that we ever intended the fund to be used for those.”

Activists who say the fund approved by the Legislature doesn’t provide enough for conservation projects are circulating petitions to create a new fund diverting more dollars — more than $100 million at current oil production rates — that could be used for things like purchasing land, which is disallowed under the current law.

Porter said part of the motivation for the change is conservation groups wanting their operations funded by tax dollars.

“One of the reasons that the conservation groups think it’s not enough money,” he said, “is when you look at some of their proposals they have entire proposals that are nothing but full-time employees for their organizations paid for with state dollars.”

He does say the fund may need to be larger given that the first round of funding requests already total more than the $30 million approved for the 2013-2015 biennium.

“To start with, I think we picked a very good number,” he said. “I’m not saying it should stay there forever. It may need to go to $40, $45 or $50 million dollars.”

Contact Rob Port at rport@watchdog.org.

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