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Doyle Johannes, Underwood, N.D. , Published October 19 2013

Letter: Clear difference between conservation, preservation

There is a huge difference between conservation and preservation. The Forum’s recent editorial, “ND stands at outdoor crossroad,” smacks of preservation, not conservation. The Forum conveniently paints agriculture and oil as greedy. They do so because it’s easy. When change occurs, natural-resource-providing industries – where true wealth is generated – are often an easy target. These attacks become easier as industries grow and prosper. Judging from the editorial, The Forum is on that bandwagon. Using terms like “traditional values” and “cherished heritage” when describing possible consequences of oil and agricultural development make it easier to demonize prosperity.

For The Forum to say the “damage done to traditional values and cherished heritage will be irreversible” is clearly divisive. This is a classic environmental activist tactic: inventing a crisis, and for that crisis, inventing the cause. Predictably enough, the crisis is conservation, or more correctly stated preservation, and the culprits are energy development and agriculture.

The Forum has it wrong. Ditching, draining and tiling on the farm are not accelerating at a pace never before seen in the state. Any activities that are taking place can only be happening in areas converted to cropland prior to Dec. 23, 1985, unless farmers have chosen to not participate in the farm program, or any other federal program.

Given the rate of participation by North Dakota farmers in federal programs, it is unlikely drainage is at the level suggested. It is doubtful The Forum editors have applied for drainage permits and permits to tile. If they had, they would know the process is long and expensive and many times ends in denial.

Have the editors of The Forum looked at old photos of black snowdrifts and blowing fields even with shelterbelts in them? Today those drifts are extremely rare, not because of government intervention or because Game and Fish waved a wand. Farmers in this state have taken it upon themselves to improve the way they manage the soil and nature’s wrath. We have done this not because The Forum or the environmental movement threatened us but because we now have the ability through engineering and technology to control wind and water erosion far more effectively than in the past.

As for CRP, how much is enough? Yes, the number of acres is down, but there are still more than 1 million acres enrolled in the state. CRP was put in place as a set-aside program for highly erodible land, not a wildlife conservation program. CRP dried up small towns and decimated the rural population in many counties. CRP allowed the federal government to compete with farmers and essentially robbed many potential young farmers and ranchers of the opportunity to begin in this industry by gobbling up the most needed resource – land. Thankfully, farming and ranching have again become profitable enough for farmers and ranchers to compete for land. But now the conservation community is aghast.

For The Forum to characterize what is taking place in North Dakota as common human greed is shameful! For the preservation community

to bite the hand that is feeding it is at best counterproductive and at worst could drive a wedge deeply between the natural resource-providing industries and the strides that have been made with sensible conservationists.


Johannes is president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau.