BISMARCK - The sponsor of the Outdoor Heritage Fund bill, which was signed into law Wednesday, is on his third attempt to remove three conservation groups from the fund's advisory board - groups that originally helped craft the idea.
Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, said two of the groups tried to kill the bill while it was in committee and he believes they are now trying to put together a campaign to put a different version of the fund on the 2014 ballot to put it in the state constitution.
"They need to pick a side. They are either all on board or get to do their own thing," he said.
Leaders of Ducks Unlimited of North Dakota and the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust have said they are not pursuing a constitutional amendment and supported the Outdoor Heritage Fund but wanted it to have more money.
Steve Adair, a regional director for Ducks Unlimited, called Porter's move "political gamesmanship" that "shakes our confidence in the legislative process."
The Outdoor Heritage Fund bill included a 12-person advisory board that would be created under the Industrial Commission to provide advice as to which organizations or projects should receive funding. The bill required the governor to appoint members from specific conservation organizations - Ducks Unlimited of North Dakota, the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, the North Dakota chapter of Pheasants Forever - and one at-large member from the conservation community.
While the bill was being debated, Porter tried twice to remove the groups from the advisory board.
Even after it was signed, Porter made his third attempt to remove the groups Thursday, hoping to amend it to Senate Bill 2242, which deals with disabled veterans and hunting fees. The bill was being heard in the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Porter chairs, and the amendment passed.
The three groups were part of a committee, with Adair as the chairman, that pushed to put a similar fund to a statewide vote in 2012. Their idea would have established a Clean Water, Lands and Outdoor Heritage Fund using oil taxes to provide grants to organizations for conservation efforts.
When the idea failed to get on the ballot, the group worked together to create the bill that was signed Wednesday.
Adair said this kind of attempt is why Ducks Unlimited helped propose Senate Concurrent Resolution 4027, which was asking for a $100 million fund but was shot down by lawmakers.
"We want to make sure we have good debate about these issues and good discussion," he said. "The amendment feels like an attempt to limit discussion and makes us wonder how committed the Legislature is to this effort."
He said the groups that Porter is trying to remove are the most active and largest in the state, with members working with farmers and ranchers.
Adair said the groups testified in favor of the Outdoor Heritage Fund bill throughout the session, but said it needed more than $30 million in a biennium to fully address the state's needs.
Keith Trego, executive director of the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, another group targeted for removal from the advisory board, said he was shocked to hear about the amendment since the bill already has been signed.
He said nobody has discussed or made any decision to move forward with a committee to put a different version of the fund up for a statewide vote.
"We're focusing on trying to make the current bill that passed as successful as possible and putting efforts towards how that money could be best used and what kind of programs could be best for the state," he said.
Porter said he would be happy to drop the amendment if any of the groups came out to say they were supportive of the new fund and are not trying put the issue up for a statewide vote next year.
But until then, he said many other conservation groups have contacted him to be placed on the board.
"Why have the three groups on there when there are so many others that want to be on the board," he said, adding that the three groups need to ask to be on the advisory board. "They went rogue on the whole team that put the fund together."
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