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$9.47 million in conservation projects proposed

BISMARCK -- The first set of grant applications of the biennium to the Outdoor Heritage Fund will be considered Monday. Among the 20 proposed projects, totaling $9.47 million, is a successful tree-planting initiative that was first approved in 2014.

BISMARCK -- The first set of grant applications of the biennium to the Outdoor Heritage Fund will be considered Monday. Among the 20 proposed projects, totaling $9.47 million, is a successful tree-planting initiative that was first approved in 2014.

Topping concerns is lower-than-anticipated tax money as oil prices remain lower than anticipated. As a result, the Outdoor Heritage Fund Advisory Board will need to more carefully prioritize projects and determine how funding should be spread over the biennium, according to chairman Wade Moser.

That will be the first order of business when the board meets in Bismarck, Moser said.

State estimates from earlier this year, which haven’t been updated, showed about $20 million being available for the 2013-15 biennium and $26 million for 2015-17. There is concern that the level of funding may be even less due to a decline in oil prices that has persisted for nearly a year.

“The biggest impact is we’re probably going to have a lot less dollars than what we were expecting,” said Moser, who characterized the process as business as usual.

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The cap for the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which was created in 2013, was raised from $30 million per biennium to $40 million during the last legislative session. It’s intended to provide money for conservation projects and to provide public access to outdoor recreation areas. The Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars come from a portion of the state’s oil and gas gross production tax revenues.

“When you look back to what this was about, it’s about conservation, conservation, conservation,” Moser said. “I think we need to focus on ‘have you got a specific project ready to go today?’”

The largest application to be considered is for $2 million by the North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts. The group is aiming for continued funding of a statewide tree planting initiative it’s undertaken.

The association was awarded $1.878 million in the first Outdoor Heritage Fund grant round in early 2014 for a three-year project, all of which has been dedicated due to high demand.

The smallest project to be considered is from The Nature Conservancy in Center. The group is asking for $9,450 to restore native grasses to an 80-acre field it owns in Sheridan County.

Moser said he doesn’t see the board’s job as being tougher under the circumstances.

“We’re not just here to dole out dollars. It’s to fund projects that follow the law,” Moser said.

Karlene Fine, executive director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, agreed with Moser.

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“I don’t think cash flow will be an issue. I think they’re going to prioritize their funding,” Fine said.

The advisory board’s recommendations are to come before the NDIC at its Dec. 16 meeting.

Information on projects can be found at the Outdoor Heritage Fund link at www.nd.gov/ndic .

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