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Sen. Tyler Axness, Fargo, Published March 13 2013

Letter: Natural heritage is at risk

Growing up a fifth-generation North Dakotan in rural Benson County, I was blessed to inherit the state’s vast outdoors, where agriculture and conservation worked collectively for the betterment of the state. I, like many of you, was raised on a landscape abundant in natural beauty with clean water, numerous wetlands, wildlife habitat and native prairies. The outdoor heritage I refer to has a humbling effect on us as a people and is highly valued in our state’s quality of life.

This heritage and this quality of life are being challenged by unprecedented growth and development across the state, a fact that was appropriately identified in a series of Forum articles and a Forum editorial (“Wildlife and oil don’t mix,” March 12) printed this very week. Let me be clear, we should all rejoice in the opportunities created by this development, but never should we shy away from the challenges that arise with it. It is time we rise to the occasion before us in preserving the outdoors we grew to love. We cannot blindly accept the good fortune without addressing the threat of a depleting landscape that accompanies it.

We cannot merely predicate our success on the amount of reserves we have in the bank, rather our success will be determined by future generations in the North Dakota heritage we protect and pass forward. That was the purpose of SCR 4027, which would have gone to a vote of the people had it been adopted by the Legislature. Unfortunately, our Senate did not see the merit of this bill and did not allow it to go to a vote of the people, including the estimated 80 individuals who came to the Capitol last week to testify in support of SCR 4027.

Though SCR 4027 has been defeated, my fellow sponsors and I do appreciate that the governor included an aspect of conservation in his budget proposal. However, we still feel it falls far short. First, he would have the Industrial Commission be in control of these efforts. How can we entrust true conservation to the same commission that recently approved controversial drilling on a historic site in the Killdeer Mountains? I declare we cannot and it would be misguided to think otherwise. The second concern is the lack of adequate funding to meet the demand of honest outdoor conservation. If we are to take conservation seriously, we must take a serious approach, one with a commission knowledgeable of the subject and independent from conflicts of interest with an adequate funding level to meet the economic reality of the time.

As I campaigned, I made a commitment to my fellow North Dakotans that I would do all I could to ensure the North Dakota I inherited was there for our children. I look forward to working in the Senate on HB 1278 to reflect this commitment to our threatened outdoors.

In times of drastic change, it is appropriate to look into the past to gain direction for the future. In this moment, let us follow the words of former North Dakota Gov. Art Link: “Let those who follow and repopulate the land be able to say, our grandparents did their job well. The land is as good and, in some cases, better than before. Only if they can say this will we be worthy of the rich heritage of our land and its resources.”

Sen. Axness, D-Fargo, represents District 16 in the North Dakota Senate.