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Gerald Van Amburg, Moorhead, Published November 02 2013

Letter: There is a crisis in ND

The opinion column by Doyle Johannes (The Forum, Oct. 20), president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, begs for rebuttal.

Basing an argument on the definition of “preservation” as opposed to “conservation” doesn’t hold up. I hope we can preserve the way of life that has become cherished in North Dakota as well as many other communities. To do so requires understanding the problems and the application of appropriate conservation practices.

No one can deny the wholesale loss of natural communities through use of the land for economic gain via agriculture, logging, energy development and mining. These land uses are needed to sustain our way of life. But to keep what little of the natural world we still have will require judicious application of conservation concepts and practices.

Johannes incorrectly identifies land use industries as being natural resource-providing industries. More correctly, they are natural resource-using industries. All true wealth is derived from the natural environment. The late Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin had it right when he stated, “The economy is the wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.” Natural areas, with their diversity of life forms, provide us with many services on which we unfortunately place no dollar value. Clean water, clean air and forms of recreation are among the many services we enjoy.

The Forum does not have to invent a crisis of conservation (editorial, Oct. 13). Any unbiased individual who takes the time to become informed can see the environmental crisis we face. It is important to recognize causes of the crisis so we can apply conservation practices that will lessen the impact. Given the fact that agriculture is the major land use in our area and much of the world, it is a key contributor to the environmental crisis.

In western North Dakota, a key cause is energy development. It does no good to ignore the harmful impacts. Drainage by ditching and tiling has greatly increased over the past two decades. The 1985 farm bill with its Swampbuster provision slowed the loss of wetlands, but drainage improvements have been common. Getting permits to improve drainage and to tile is not a long and expensive process as Johannes stated. Permit applications are easy and seldom denied.

I do not judge drainage, but neither do I dismiss it as having no impact. It is a complex subject that defies a simple answer. Soil erosion, on the other hand, is not to be so blithely dismissed. While we may have technology to better control wind and water erosion than in the past, it remains an insidious problem. Turning to the more profitable row crops of corn and soybeans has resulted in greater soil erosion. Higher commodity prices are enticing farmers to take highly erodible land out of CRP and put it into row crop production. The loss of CRP acres will lead to more erosion, greater water pollution and loss of habitat. CRP is a valuable program for all of us, farmers included.

North Dakota residents would do well to look at how Minnesota is working to address the environmental crisis. In 2008 Minnesota residents overwhelmingly approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which allocates 0.375 percent of the sales and use tax to support an outdoor heritage fund, clean water fund, parks and trails fund and arts and cultural heritage fund. This provides nearly $300 million per year, with approximately $200 million going to selected conservation needs of habitat and clean water. This is a small tax that most Minnesotans love. Given a chance, I would bet that North Dakota residents would embrace this idea.

It would be wonderful if North Dakota was “open” for conservation.

Van Amburg is professor of biology (retired), Concordia College.