State Of North Dakota Shouldn’t Block Land Sale To Conservationists

North Dakota is having a debate right now about a constitutional amendment which would divert a huge amount of oil tax revenues – hundreds of millions of dollars per biennium, billions over the lifespan of the measure – into a slush fund for conservation groups that includes a mandate to spend most of the money every single year whether it’s needed or not.

The groups could then use that money to pay for their operations and buy up North Dakota land.

The measure is facing heavy opposition from a coalition of groups from across the political spectrum – believe it or not, the North Dakota Farmer’s Union and the North Dakota Farm Bureau are on the same side of this fight – and for good reason. Conservation is a political issue, and we ought not be funding any one side of a political issue with taxpayer dollars. The question of funding conservation should be settled by our lawmakers through the legislative process, not a ballot measure creating a massive continuing appropriation in the state constitution.

But that doesn’t mean that conservation groups should be stopped from buying land at all.

In North Dakota – which is the only state in the union where this is so – property owners cannot sell their land to a nonprofit group without it being approved by the Natural Areas Acquisition Advisory Committee.

So when Ducks Unlimited, one of the groups backing the aforementioned conservation measure, wanted to buy some land in Foster County from a landowner willing to sell it to them, they had to get it approved by this committee. And who sits on the committee?

Among some others, the North Dakota Farm Bureau, the North Dakota Farmer’s Union and the North Dakota Stockman’s Association. All groups that oppose the conservation measure.

I think these groups are right to oppose the conservation measure, and I’ve made it clear that I will no longer support Ducks Unlimited, a group I’ve enjoyed supporting in the past – but is it really fair for the state government to get between a land sale between a willing seller and a willing buyer? And wield that interference through a board populated by special interest groups?

That’s not right.

I don’t support Ducks Unlimited and their myopic views on conservation, but anyone who says they support property rights should support the right of property owners to sell out to conservationists if they wish.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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