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Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service, Published December 05 2013

With four rounds left, requests for ND Outdoor Heritage Fund grants already exceed $30M limit

BISMARCK – The dozen board members who will recommend which projects deserve grants from North Dakota’s new Outdoor Heritage Fund have their work cut out for them after the fund, which is limited to $30 million every two years, received 76 applications totaling nearly $35 million for the first of five grant rounds.

Wade Moser, chairman of the fund’s advisory board, said he was surprised at the number of grant requests turned in by Monday’s deadline. Board members will meet Jan. 13 and 14 to hear presentations from the applicants, score their projects and make funding recommendations to the state’s Industrial Commission, which has final approval.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but we’ll take it through the process,” Moser said.

Board members debated in October whether to cap the funds awarded during the first grant round but ultimately decided against it. Moser said the consensus was to review the first batch of applications and determine “how best to spread this thing out.”

“We still have four more application deadlines that we’ve already put out there,” he said. “I don’t think we ever wanted this to be a first-come, first-serve.”

The next four application deadlines are April 1, Aug. 1, Nov. 1 and April 1, 2015.

Created by the Legislature last spring, the fund can receive up to $30 million every two years in state oil and gas production tax revenue. With grant requests already exceeding that amount by almost $5 million, the board may try to stretch the available dollars by partially funding some requests, while other projects simply won’t receive grants this round, Moser said.

“That doesn’t mean they can’t tweak it and come back before the next deadline and apply,” he said.

The fund was created to support projects related to conservation, recreation and agriculture. The average first-round grant request is $455,776, with groups seeking funding for projects ranging from tree planting initiatives and improving artificial nesting habitat to playgrounds and boat ramps.

The largest grant request is from North Dakota Natural Resources Trust Inc., which seeks $3.75 million to support its Working Lands Partnership. The program aims to partner with private landowners in a voluntary conservation program to create and protect existing grassland and wetland habitat.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. has the next-largest grant request, a $3 million bid to support its Winter Cereals Sustainability in Action program, which promotes winter wheat and no-till seeding to benefit soil, water and wildlife.

The total estimated cost of all projects is about $62.5 million.

Meanwhile, conservation and sportsmen’s groups continue to circulate petitions to try to put an initiated measure on the November 2014 ballot that, if approved by voters, would amend the state constitution to create a Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Fund.

The fund annually would receive 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenue, which would amount to a projected $150 million during the 2015-17 biennium.

North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation, a coalition of groups led by the Greater North Dakota Chamber, has come out against the measure, saying it would set a bad precedent.

The chairman of the initiative’s sponsoring committee, Stephen Adair of Ducks Unlimited, said the large number of Outdoor Heritage Fund grant requests supports feedback from across the state of the need for more conservation resources.

“I think it definitely adds another piece of evidence to what we’ve been saying, that we need to address our outdoors and our outdoor economy,” he said. “I think this is an expression of other voices besides just ours, that it’s real and people see a need to do that.”

The advisory board consists of 12 voting members and four nonvoting members appointed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who chairs the three-member Industrial Commission.

The Outdoor Heritage Fund grant applications are listed at www.nd.gov/ndic/ohf-applications.html.