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James Cook, Published May 24 2013

Letter: Wetlands in ND prove their worth

Wetlands proved their importance this spring by reducing flood damage along the Red River. Although 50 percent of the wetlands in North Dakota have been drained, the half that remains proved critical. The dry summer of 2012 lowered water levels on the prairie. Devils Lake dropped 3 feet. The ponds and marshes were dry this spring, and when the record snow accumulation melted, they filled with runoff that would otherwise have gone into the rivers. The importance of wetlands in holding back floodwaters is beyond dispute.

Nevertheless, the state of North Dakota is battling conservation organizations that want to save or restore wetlands. The Audubon Society has gone to court to hold onto critical nesting ground for the Piping Plover that the state has ordered them to divest. Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy are essentially banned from acquiring land for conservation purposes. No other state restricts conservation initiatives like this.

My foundation, Crosslands, has been forced to divest wildlife properties on which we have restored drained wetlands that held back many acres of water from the Sheyenne River. We are currently gearing up for a court battle that common sense says we shouldn’t have to fight. We convert marginal land into beautiful wetland complexes planted in prairie grass that are havens for wildlife. Despite these magnificent wildlife refuges, the state wants to run us off.

North Dakota currently gets enormous positive publicity because of its strong economy. However, if the spotlight ever shines on its regressive attitude toward private conservation, it will be a black eye for the state. A more positive attitude toward wetlands and wildlife is long overdue. The value of the prairie should not be measured by grain production alone. We should not have to fight it out in court to secure a few special places for wildlife, especially when these wetlands help reduce flooding.

Cook is a former Fargo resident and president of a Minneapolis investment company.