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Jacob Odermann, Published April 19 2014

Letter: We make our living from land

‘It’s our North Dakota.” That’s a touching sentiment, one that the ad wizards behind the North Dakotans for the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment certainly knew would have the desired effect. The message tugged at my heartstrings. But I asked, “What is the desired effect?”

Based on projections, the amendment would funnel approximately $300 million of the oil extraction tax per biennium to fund “Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks.” The fund will be managed by an appointed 13-member board. The board will consist of men and women from across the state, people who represent all walks of life and industry, including one farmer or rancher appointed by North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner.

One farmer or rancher? I did a double take. Why only one farmer or rancher?

I had the privilege of growing up on a ranch situated on the edge of one of the most ruggedly beautiful areas in the world, the North Dakota Badlands. Those of you who grew up on a farm or ranch understand fully what Theodore Roosevelt once said about his time in North Dakota: “We knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst … but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins, and ours was the glory of work and the joy of living.”

Farmers and ranchers make their living off of the land, drink the water and feed their families from the fruits of that land. We know the pain of saving a calf from a snowbank at 40 below zero, just to see it die a few days later.

Who better to appoint than people who work to conserve a way of life that is sown into the framework of what it is to be a North Dakotan? So why then does the amendment seemingly seek to remove the power of conservation from the very people who have helped make North Dakota what it is?

One of the purposes reads as follows. “Conserve or acquire natural areas, parks and other recreation areas or provide access for hunting and fishing.”

Read that again: “Conserve or acquire natural areas …” No wonder Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited support the amendment. Nonprofit organizations have the ability to apply for grants worth millions of dollars. These government monies could be used directly to compete against a private citizen interested in purchasing land.

As a young farmer and rancher just getting a started, I don’t have that type of bankroll, nor would someone running any type of business in which the government decides to get involved.

As a farmer and rancher, as well as a devoted outdoorsman, I understand the need for continuing our outdoor heritage and providing an opportunity for non-landowners to experience the outdoors.

Instead of creating a yet another commission of 13 bureaucrats in Bismarck, how about utilizing programs already in place?

Why don’t we increase the monetary incentive to landowners to participate in programs like the Conservation Reserve Program or North Dakota’s Private Lands Open To Sportsmen? Are we looking for giant game preserves with controlled access dictated by nonprofits, or opportunities for growth in both the state’s agricultural and outdoor tourism industries?

The proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment is not the answer to any of the above questions, nor is it the solution to protecting our air, water and soil.

Odermann ranches and farms near Belfield, N.D.