Creating a conservation fund gives people another tool to help make sense of what’s happening on the land in North Dakota. Gov. Jack Dalrymple has signed House Bill 1278, which establishes an outdoor heritage fund, as well as that fund’s management. It sets aside up to $30 million per biennium from oil and gas production tax revenues.

The legislation’s purpose is to provide access to private and public lands, develop habitat projects, support water and soil stewardship to enhance farming and ranching, and conserve natural areas for parks and recreation. There’s also a list of don’ts in the bill: Don’t litigate or lobby, don’t “interfere, disrupt or prevent activities associated with surface coal mining operations; sand, gravel, or scoria extraction activities; oil and gas operations; or other energy facilities or infrastructure developments.” And no buying land.

Given the list of don’ts, along with the final say in the fund’s grant process falling to the state Industrial Commission, there’s little chance for any project to create a problem for business and industry. The lines are drawn rather clearly. It was not an environmentalist’s bill.

Although $30 million sounds like a lot of money, in the scheme of doing land, water and habitat projects, it can go fast, especially if you are looking at projects statewide.

Many are looking at this legislation as a foot in the door for doing conservation and wildlife work. As a result, the most important part of the new fund will be what gets accomplished in the next 18 to 24 months. What can its proponents do to prove its worth to succeeding legislatures?

We have been extolling the virtues of balance when it comes to oil and gas development. This heritage fund fits into that mode of thinking.

The legislation has its roots in an initiated measure that was derailed by petition fraud last year. That measure would have involved a much larger percentage of oil and gas revenue, but structurally it was similar. There was a proposal to allow the fund to be used for land purchases, but it received a cold reception from legislators. Dalrymple had included a smaller cap in his budget, only $20 million a biennium. Lawmakers pumped it up a bit.

The heritage fund creates possibilities for the future.