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Petition proposed for ND heritage fund

BISMARCK -- Conservation advocates took their first step Wednesday toward getting a measure on the November 2014 statewide ballot to set aside a bigger slice of oil revenues to protect North Dakota's outdoor heritage.

Backers of the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Fund filed a proposed petition with the North Dakota Secretary of State's Office.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said his office will review the proposed petition to initiate a constitutional measure before approving it for circulation.

His office and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem have five to seven days to draft a petition title, a short summary that must fairly represent the proposal. The petition title must be approved by Aug. 30.

The measure would set aside 5 percent of the oil extraction tax, which would raise an estimated $150 million during the 2013-15 biennium, according to state projections for the tax.

"Reinvesting in natural areas helps to preserve our outdoor traditions, like hunting, fishing and enjoying our recreation areas with our friends and families," Steve Adair of Ducks Unlimited, chairman of the measure's sponsoring committee, said in a statement.

Setting aside 5 percent of the extraction tax would use existing tax dollars and would not adversely affect other programs funded through oil revenues, conservation advocates say.

"We see the fund creating incentives for farmers, ranchers and other landowners to conserve grass and wetlands and adopt best management practices, which will help keep water clean and natural areas intact," said Peggy Ladner of The Nature Conservancy, a coalition supporter.

About 145,000 acres of North Dakota native prairie were converted to cropland between 2002 and 2007, according to the coalition, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. North Dakota has lost almost 2 million acres of conservation land.

The group has about a year to collect the 26,904 petition signatures needed to get the measure on the Nov. 5, 2014, ballot.