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Letter: Wildlife is good business

The Greater North Dakota Chamber exists to create a strong business climate. It began in 1924 (as the Greater North Dakota Association) to attract tourists and settlers. Today it remains a business advocate, but it seems to be missing the boat when it has chosen to oppose the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment. Instead, it should be an enthusiastic supporter of the amendment. Here’s why: There’s big business in conservation.

From 2011 to 2012, North Dakota hunting and fishing direct expenditures amounted to $642 million. Add $727 million in secondary spending and the total gross business volume for hunting and fishing was estimated at $1.4 billion (North Dakota State University, 2011, Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics). Those dollars supported all kinds of commerce. Such business volume will be threatened if hunting and fishing expenditures shrink due to loss or damage to habitats.

CRP peaked in 2007 with 3.2 million acres in place. By 2012, half as many acres remained and the pheasant harvest dropped from 900,000 to near 600,000 in 2013. The chamber will have snubbed hunters by refusing CWWP dollars to rework programs to enhance habitats that produce wildlife and a vigorous hunter economy.

While the Bakken has created its own prosperous commerce, it has also diminished a segment of our tourism and outdoor recreation economy because of its aggressive development. High ag commodity prices have reduced CRP by thousands of acres and put other quality native grasslands into crop production. CWWP Amendment dollars are big enough to curtail some of this and build new conservation initiatives that will help keep rural economies healthy with recreational services and jobs.

Farmers and ranchers have been our greatest conservation partners. We’d have never floated more than 3 million acres of CRP without them. CWWP along with other state and federal funding will develop new wetlands and grasslands programs with competitive landowner incentive payments. Do this and many of our past conservation partners will re-up to be our future ones.

For 20 years, North Dakota’s waterfowl and upland game drew hunters from across the country. With less access, we are not as welcoming as in those years. Today, fewer people visit the northwest quadrant of the state. A reliable source says travel to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park (and environs) sees fewer campers. It’s not uncommon to be told to not go there if you don’t have to. And fewer hunters may visit our waterfowl-rich Coteau prairies as access diminishes.

Fishing is great. Dollars from CWWP can help keep it that way. Abundant, clean water like that in Lake Sakakawea and elsewhere makes for quality fisheries that attract fishermen who spend money to support businesses. Only if we can handle oil spills, leaks and chemical contaminations will this prevail. CWWP can help fund professional oversight and works of reclamation to protect our waters.

The state chamber claims CWWP dollars will buy lots of private land. It’s a redundant criticism of CWWP with no basis in fact. No non-government group has ever acquired the acreage these groups are frightened will be taken from agricultural production. Even land offered for sale by willing sellers seldom gets by the antiquated North Dakota Natural Areas Acquisition Advisory Committee, or the governor who has the final word. Other hyperbole says CWWP will receive some $300 million a year; fact is, today’s number would be about $45 million a year.

The chamber does good work. It just needs to consider promoting the CWWP Amendment. The business of conservation will follow.

Upgren is retired from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.