Post-Election Fallout For Conservation Groups Continues


Ever since Measure 5 (the constitutional amendment to create an oil tax slush fund for conservation groups) flopped on the statewide ballot (almost 80 percent of voters cast no votes) I’ve been arguing that the ill-advised campaign didn’t just squander millions on a losing ballot measure effort. The conservation activists also wounded their cause for years to come.

Regional Ducks Unlimited boss Steve Adair wrote in an op/ed recently that Measure 5 “started a conversation” about conservation in the state, but that’s a lot of spin. Adair and other supporters of Measure burned so many bridges that they’re going to be about as welcome as the Ebola virus down in Bismarck next year during the legislative session.

And the agriculture groups that opposed Ducks Unlimited in the Measure 5 debate aren’t letting go of some issues they raised during the debate. They see Ducks Unlimited as a political organization now, and they want partnerships between the group and government agencies ended:

FARGO, N.D. — North Dakota agricultural groups are putting the pressure on officials to eject conservation advocate organizations as contract helpers in U.S. Department of Agriculture offices that regulate wetland compliance issues.

The North Dakota Farmers Union recently passed a resolution that adopted a policy saying, “We oppose the use of special interest groups in making wetland determinations offering technical assistance.”

This is a reference to election-time debate over the Ducks Unlimited organization supplying two or three contract workers in USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service offices in North Dakota. DU was one of the primary supporters of Measure 5 that was thumped by a nearly 80 percent majority in the last election. The measure would have mandated state funding of conservation programs by an estimated $150 million.

Mary Podoll, the NRCS state conservationist, has said DU contract employees are simply there to help deliver voluntary programs like the Environmental Quality Incentive Programs, and not for any conservation compliance work.

The North Dakota Farm Bureau also opposes these relationships between DU and the federal government, which strikes me as a sound position. Not because of some sense of political retribution against DU for a seriously misguided ballot measure, but because the government shouldn’t be getting cozy with activist groups.

Ducks Unlimited is a private group with a political agenda. They spend money on lobbying and campaigns to advance that agenda. Which is just fine. We live in America, and that’s how democracy works. But they shouldn’t be getting tax dollars from their work with the federal government which they can use to offset the expenses of their political activities. They also shouldn’t get to bolster those political activities with their status as partners with the government.

It’s wrong.

Mr. Adair said that Measure 5 started a conversation. He’s right, it started one about Ducks Unlimited’s political activities, and I don’t think it’s going to end well for DU.