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Sen. Jessica Unruh, Published March 14 2013

Letter: Conservation amendment fell short of addressing real needs

Republicans and Democrats support conservation of natural resources. And why not? Conservation provides many things – increased productivity on agricultural lands to feed our residents, preservation of our lands for future generations, and suitable habitat to sustain wildlife populations.

The question facing us is this: How do we provide reasonable and responsible conservation while increasing development throughout our state?

SCR 4027 was proposed to the North Dakota Senate by a team of Democrats just before crossover as an attempt to answer that question, but it fell short. It fell short because it forgot about the people. It forgot about farmers and ranchers, who have been responsible for conserving our state’s lands for generations.

The resolution would have provided $200 million per biennium for special interest groups to acquire real property and easements with pre-tax dollars in the name of conservation, stripping agricultural producers from the ability to competitively purchase land. If passed, this unelected board would have become the ninth largest state agency. It would have created two new tiers of government bureaucracy to implement the program, heavily loaded with appointees from environmental groups whose interests often conflict with agriculture and private property rights.

SCR 4027 embedded this entitlement into the North Dakota Constitution and was not the answer on how to provide reasonable and responsible conservation.

Conservation is such a priority that the Legislature has been supporting it through funding for decades. State agencies such as the North Dakota Game and Fish Department have implemented programs such as Private Land Open to Sportsmen, and the North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts has been planting trees all across our state for generations. NDASCD supports numerous programs to achieve conservation goals, providing the opportunity for true conservation and putting it on the ground.

Farmers and ranchers work with conservation professionals to improve their land and preserve it for the future – two things that are very important to me as a mom of two young girls, a supervisor on the Mercer County Soil Conservation District board, and a hunter.

With my family roots in farming and ranching, I have a vested interest in conserving our lands and a shared concern for preserving North Dakota’s heritage. Republicans support utilizing our state agencies’ current programs and expanding them appropriately in cooperation with our state’s land owners, as we have been practicing for decades. This pathway gets us much closer to achieving the goal of true conservation.

Unruh, R-Beulah, represents District 33 in the North Dakota Senate.