Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed House Bill 1278 on Wednesday, creating the North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund, which will provide as much as $15 million a year by taking a percentae of the gross oil production tax.
The fund is to be used for conservation projects and public access to outdoor recreation areas.
The fund, which received broad support in the Legislature, raises some questions.
- How will the money be spent? We know a 12-member advisory committee will make recommendations to the three-person Industrial Commission, which will have the final say, but we've not heard any details on what kind of projects might be funded by this money. The funds cannot be used for land purchases, litigation or lobbying, but what exactly can be done with the money?
- We don't understand how up to $15 million a year can be set aside for unknown projects at the same time legislators are cutting $200 million from a bill that would allocate more money for oil-impacted areas, including money for fire departments, law enforcement and emerency services.
- Even if the funds are used for well-intentioned projects, landowners will undoubtedly chafe if they are at all told how to manage their land.
We're certainly not against attempts to conserve North Dakota's rich outdoor heritage, but the North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund leaves us, and others, with a lot of uanswered questions.