A contentious outdoor heritage bill being considered by North Dakota lawmakers remains on the table.
The Senate Appropriations Committee took the latest look Friday at the House bill, which would take a percentage of the state’s oil extraction tax for conservation projects.
The bill would take 4 percent of the first 1 percent of the state oil production tax, generating an estimated $17 million to $20 million a year, and cap the heritage fund at $30 million per biennium.
Some members of the committee questioned if the money would help conservation programs, while some wondered if the fund was needed at all.
“Is the money in the bill enough?” asked Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo.
Sen. Terry Wanzek,
R-Jamestown, said most farmers in the state already use sound conservation practices like no-till in their operations that leave cover on fields, benefiting wildlife.
Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, said there is a gap in existing conservation programs for things like rotational grazing that would be beneficial for nesting cover.
A Senate version of then outdoor heritage bill, which would have collected $100 million a year in oil taxes, was rejected March 11, on a 36-10 vote. It would have put the issue on the statewide ballot as a constitutional measure.
The heritage proposal was brought to the Legislature by Porter after it was dropped from the 2012 general election ballot because of petition fraud.
The Senate version, introduced by Tyler Axness, D-Fargo, caught Porter and other supporters of his bill off guard.
Porter said a provision of the Senate bill, to allow the purchase of land and put more money in the outdoor heritage fund, threatened both bills.
Farm groups in the state did not support Axness’ bill because it would have allowed the purchase of land with money from the fund.
“I’m still fairly chapped conservation groups went behind my back to kill this bill,” Porter said.
The original version of Porter’s bill included the conservation groups Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust Fund on a 12-member advisory board appointed by the governor to oversee the heritage fund.
The advisory board also would include four representatives from the agricultural community.
Porter said he will amend his bill to re
move the three conservation groups and replace them with groups that “deserve to be on the committee.”
Becky Jones Mahlum, communications director for Ducks Unlimited in Bismarck, testified on behalf of the North Dakota Clean Water, Lands and Outdoor Heritage Coalition.
Jones Mahlum said Ducks Unlimited and the coalition have move the three conservation groups always supported an outdoor heritage bill and did not try to kill Porter’s bill, but they think it needs more funding.
She said her group would like to see the fund cap increased to $100 million to provide incentives for farmers and ranchers to keep grasslands and wetlands on private land intact.
“We’ve always supported this bill (Porter’s) and we will continue to support it,” she said. “We truly think that it’s not enough money to fund it.”
Jones Mahlum said about half of those who sign up for the Conservation Reserve Program in North Dakota are turned down because of a lack of funding.
“HB1278 could provide those incentives, especially as national conservation funding is dropping,” she said.
Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, questioned the need for a bill that takes money from the oil industry, which has provided an economic boon to the state.
“I have a hard time understanding this,” Bowman said.
No action was taken on the bill Friday.