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Terry DeVine column: Polar bears, carnivores a possibility

Geoff Hall, executive director of the Red River Zoo, has one less thing to worry about. But that doesn't mean he's worry-free, not by a long shot. The year has been a rugged one for nonprofit agencies all over the country, he said. It hel...

Geoff Hall, executive director of the Red River Zoo, has one less thing to worry about.

But that doesn't mean he's worry-free, not by a long shot. The year has been a rugged one for nonprofit agencies all over the country, he said.

It helped when earlier this week the Fargo City Commission voted unanimously to do the right thing and cover between $760,000 and $800,000 in special assessments levied against the zoo's 33 acres.

I know some people, like former Fargo City Commission candidate Michael Williams, are agitated by the plan put forward by Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness. It diverts property tax funds to the zoo from a parcel of land west of 43rd Street Southwest. But I think the City Commission did the right thing.

"This is one of the pivotal moments in the zoo's history," said Hall.

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Hall said now that people know the zoo is going to be around, they'll be more likely to financially support the facility.

"This paves the way for fund raising. Now we hope people will want to buy into the dream," said Hall.

Like a young oak tree, Hall said the zoo needs to be nourished, and he and members of the Red River Zoological Society Board of Directors think the City Commission had the big picture in mind.

"They're looking at providing a certain kind of environment -- a community culture," said Hall.

He said the zoo is already talking about a new exhibit that could include a big carnivore. Among the possibilities: an amur leopard, snow leopard, Siberian tiger or Japanese macaques (snow monkeys). He said all are cold-tolerant species.

"We're studying design and costs," said Hall. "We have to be progressive and innovative."

He and Gary Stende of the zoo staff have also discussed the possibility of a polar bear exhibit that would be unlike any other exhibit of its kind in the country.

Attendance is off this summer, said Hall, but a recent fund-raiser dubbed the "Fur Ball" netted more than $10,000. He called it a rousing success.

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Lottery is anyone's guess

Retired Bismarck physician Herbert Wilson says anyone who believes in gambling to make money is "arithmetically challenged."

In my case, there's no doubt he has a point, but I'm still in favor of a lottery this time around in North Dakota.

Frankly, I was more than a little surprised that lottery proponents were able to gather all those signatures (more than 27,000) in such a short period of time. I expected them to fall a bit short. One certainly has to give them credit in the face of long odds.

But the big test is yet to come. Anti-lottery forces, including religious groups and individuals like former Gov. Art Link, will begin gearing up immediately if the initiative is approved for the November general election ballot.

Many opponents consider gambling a tax on the poor. Nonetheless, voters in Tennessee, Nebraska, Arizona and Idaho may vote on similar gambling initiatives in the fall and gaming expansion is expected to be debated in 26 other states.

But we shouldn't put the cart before the horse. The signatures must first be validated by the secretary of state.

Readers can reach Terry DeVine at (701) 241-5515 or tdevine@forumcomm.com

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