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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published January 24 2013

North Dakota looks to create Heritage Fund

BISMARCK – A conservation fund measure that failed to make it onto the 2012 ballot might have a second chance.

Lawmakers on Thursday heard House Bill 1278, creating the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which could total up to $15 million a year, or

$30 million a biennium. The money would come from 4 percent of the state’s oil and gas production tax revenue.

The fund would establish a 12-member board under the state’s Industrial Commission. The board would review grant requests from state agencies, tribal governments, political subdivisions and nonprofits groups. Eligible projects would include those providing access to private and public lands, improving the quality of the environment while restoring wildlife habitat and conserving natural areas for recreation.

The Industrial Commission would have final approval over each project.

The bill, heard in front of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is sponsored by Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, and three co-sponsors who are asking for an additional

$10 million more than Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s proposed 2013-15 biennium budget.

“We were listening as a Legislature and understand the importance of preserving the outdoors,” said Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, a co-sponsor of the bill.

The first attempt in 2012 was asking for 5 percent of revenue generated from oil and gas production and extraction taxes, which was estimated to generate more than $100 million in its first year.

Lt. Gov Drew Wrigley spoke in favor of the bill. He said the fund is an opportunity to create more conservation as the state’s population continues to grow and develop around the state.

“Now is the time to fortify our rich outdoor heritage here in North Dakota,” he said. “We have a substantial, recurring and unprecedented commitment to enhancing the outdoors.”