North Dakotans committed to protecting clean water and preserving the state's long and proud history of hunting, fishing, birding and other outdoor recreation delivered more than 41,000 petition signatures to the North Dakota Secretary of State on August 5th to place the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment on the ballot in November.
"We have a unique opportunity to invest a small portion of the funds the oil industry is already paying to our state, without raising taxes, to protect the things that make North Dakota, North Dakota," said Steve Adair, director of Ducks Unlimited – Great Plains Region and the chair of the committee sponsoring the measure. "This overwhelming response is a testimony that North Dakotans are passionate about protecting our cherished and valuable natural areas."
Several volunteers who helped gather signatures to place the measure on the ballot showed up to deliver the petitions and explain why they joined the effort.
"As a business owner, I support the Clean Water Wildlife and Parks Amendment because local businesses thrive when our state is able to attract visitors and offer a great quality of life to those of us fortunate enough to live here," said Holly Dickson of Mandan. "I'm also a mom, so it's important to me that we take advantage of this unique opportunity to conserve the things we love about North Dakota for our children and grandchildren. It's been way too long since North Dakota developed a new state park. The last new state park was opened thirty years ago."
Dick Monson, a farmer from Valley City, cited the importance of voluntary conservation programs that enhance a farmer's property while maintaining healthy soils and productive farmland for future generations.
"The amendment will put money in the pockets of North Dakota farmers and ranchers who enroll in voluntary conservation programs on private lands. All of the current federal conservation programs are oversubscribed," said Monson. "About half of the farmers applying for CRP get turned down. This measure will allow North Dakotans to design programs that work for us instead of relying on the federal government."
Al Geisen, a wildlife enthusiast from Bismarck volunteered with the campaign because he's concerned about the state of wildlife in North Dakota. A recent story in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead highlighted concerns over wildlife populations. Pheasant, sage grouse and mule deer numbers are all down in recent years
"North Dakota wildlife is under tremendous pressure," said Geisen. "Our state is at a crossroads. The decisions we make over the next decade will largely determine the health of our wildlife populations and the quality of life we enjoy in North Dakota. The Clean Water Wildlife and Parks Amendment is our chance to maintain healthy wildlife populations and ensure a bright future for our state."
Teachers are also joining in the Clean Water Wildlife and Parks campaign. Naomi Thorson, a teacher from Dickinson, said that she got involved in the effort because she's excited about funding for educational programs for children to learn about and enjoy nature and the outdoors.
"Our children and grandchildren will be the biggest beneficiaries of the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment," said Thorson. "All North Dakotans have a responsibility to ensure future generations inherit the same amenities and natural resources that shape the North Dakota way of life- our clean water, our hunting and fishing opportunities and our parks and other natural treasures."
Oil and gas development has created an unprecedented stream of tax revenue into the state. North Dakota is slated to have more than a $1 billion budget surplus by the end of the biennium.
"With these historic surpluses, we have a unique opportunity to invest in our state's future," said Adair. "Our state is in a position to address the needs of our schools, roads and other infrastructure and still fund conservation programs that invest in our clean water, our wildlife and our parks."
The North Dakota Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment would dedicate a small portion of the state's existing oil and gas extraction taxes to protect North Dakota's clean water and lands for future generations. Funds would go toward protecting clean water in our rivers, lakes and streams; preserving unique natural areas like the Badlands and critical fish and wildlife habitats; create parks and other areas for recreation, hunting and fishing; protect communities and private property from flooding by improving natural flood controls; and provide more opportunities and places for our children to learn about and enjoy the outdoors.
The campaign is supported by a coalition of concerned citizens, including teachers, family farmers and members of the health community; conservation organizations; hunters and anglers; and small businesses from Main Street to those involved in outdoor recreation. Supporters of the initiative held an event at the ND State Capitol celebrating the signature-gathering milestone.
For more information, go to www.cleanwaterwildlifeparks.org