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Outdoor Heritage Fund

Article By 
Craig Bihrle
Outdoor Heritage  Fund advisory board meeting

North Dakota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund is ready for action.

Initially proposed by North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple in his 2013-15 biennial budget request, and eventually passed by the North Dakota legislature during its 2013 session, the Outdoor Heritage Fund is designed to enhance habitat, public access, hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation in the state. The Outdoor Heritage Fund is supported by funding from a slice of the state’s oil and gas production tax.

The State Industrial Commission, comprised of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner, is the governing authority over the Outdoor Heritage Fund. In addition, the governor has appointed a 12-member advisory board to evaluate project proposals and make recommendations to the commission.

The Outdoor Heritage Fund advisory board has met several times in recent weeks to develop a process for accepting, evaluating and ranking proposals for funding. At its October 22 meeting, the Industrial Commission approved guidelines for the first round of project proposals. That application period is now open, with a deadline of December 2. Three additional project application periods will occur in 2014.

“I think that the fund will make a significant impact on our ability to enhance outdoor recreation and preservation of the outdoors, with an overall public appreciation for the outdoor experience,” Governor Dalrymple said. “This fund is very versatile … funds can go in a number of different directions, but they all deal with the conservation and enhancement and appreciation of the outdoors.”

North Dakota Game and Fish Department Director Terry Steinwand, who serves as one of four ex-officio or nonvoting members of the Outdoor Heritage Fund advisory board, said the legislation is a significant state funding commitment for conservation and outdoor recreation, beyond what hunters and anglers have for years contributed through license fees and excise taxes on equipment.

“This provides for great strides in conservation on North Dakota’s landscape,” Steinwand said. “In concert with existing Game and Fish programs, it has the potential to enhance hunting and fishing in the state.”

Outdoor Heritage Fund Details

House Bill 1278, passed during the 2013 legislative session, created a North Dakota “Outdoor Heritage Fund” that is governed by the State Industrial Commission. The bill was sponsored in the House by representatives Todd Porter, Mandan, and Al Carlson, Fargo, and in the Senate by Stanley Lyson, Williston, and Rich Wardner, Dickinson.

The fund can receive up to $15 million annually, or $30 million per biennium, under a formula that provides a percentage of oil and gas production taxes. In comparison, the Game and Fish Department’s annual budget is about $34 million.

The legislation specifically directs the Industrial Commission, with recommendations forwarded to the advisory board, to provide grants to political subdivisions, nonprofit organizations, state agencies  and tribal governments.

Qualifying grants are those that:

  • Provide access to private and public lands for sportsmen, including projects that create fish and wildlife habitat plus provide access for sportsmen.
  • Improve, maintain, and restore water quality, soil conditions, plant diversity, animal systems; and to support other practices of stewardship to enhance farming and ranching.
  • Develop, enhance, conserve, and restore wildlife and fish habitat on private and public lands.
  • Conserve natural areas for recreation through the establishment and development of parks and other recreation areas.

At the same time, the Industrial Commission may not use the fund, in any manner, to finance:

  • Litigation.
  • Lobbying activities.
  • Any activity that would interfere, disrupt, or prevent activities associated with surface coal mining operations; sand, gravel, or scoria extraction activities; oil and gas operations; or other energy facility or infrastructure development.
  • Acquisition of land or to encumber any land for a term longer than 20 years.
  • Projects outside North Dakota or projects that are beyond the scope of the legislation.

After attending the advisory board’s first meeting, Governor Dalrymple said he was encouraged to see that the board’s first decision was to establish a very open process in terms of who could apply for a grant, how much they could apply for, and what types of projects they could propose. “I think the board was very clear in that starting out,” Dalrymple said, “they want to make the fund as inclusive as possible to provide for a wide range of projects that enhance and protect our great outdoors.”

Outdoor Heritage Fund Advisory Board

While the Industrial Commission governs the Outdoor Heritage Fund, the governor also appoints a 12-member advisory board that will consider, rank and recommend project proposals to the Industrial Commission.

The enabling legislation requires the advisory board to consist of:

  • Four members from the agriculture community, including one each representing the North Dakota Farm Bureau; North Dakota Farmers Union; North Dakota Stockmen’s Association; and North Dakota Grain Growers Association.

These four appointees are:

  • North Dakota Farm Bureau – Eric Aasmundstad, Devils Lake.
  • North Dakota Farmers Union – Robert Kuylen, South Heart.
  • North Dakota Stockmen’s Association – Wade Moser, Bismarck.
  • North Dakota Grain Growers Association – Dan Wogsland, Bismarck.

Two members from the energy industry, including one member from the North Dakota Petroleum Council and one member from the Lignite Energy Council. They are:

  • North Dakota Petroleum Council – Blaine Hoffman, Gladstone.
  • Lignite Energy Council – Jim Melchior, Bismarck.

Four members from the conservation community, including one member from Ducks Unlimited of North Dakota, one member from the North Dakota chapter of Pheasants Forever, and two members from the conservation community at large representing statewide conservation groups (including North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, The Nature Conservatory, North Dakota Wildlife Federation, North Dakota Chapter of The Wildlife Society, and the Badlands Conservation Alliance). They are:

  • Ducks Unlimited – Dr. Tom Hutchens, Bismarck.
  • Pheasants Forever – Patricia Stockdill, Garrison.
  • Conservation at Large – Dr. Carolyn Godfread, Bismarck.
  • Conservation at Large – Kent Reierson, Williston.
  • One member from the business community: Greater North Dakota Chamber – Jon Godfread, Bismarck.

One member from the North Dakota Recreation and Park Association – Randy Bina, Bismarck.

Also serving on the advisory board as nonvoting, ex-officio members are:

  • Terry Steinwand, Director, North Dakota Game and Fish Department:
  • Mark Zimmerman, Director, North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department:
  • Larry Kotchman, State Forester, North Dakota Forest Service:
  • Rhonda Vetsch, North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts.

The term for each board member is four years and members may not serve more than two consecutive terms. The terms are staggered, so at first some of the board members will serve only two or three years before they are up for reappointment.

At its first meeting September 16 the advisory board elected Wade Moser as chairman. Jim Melchior was voted in as vice-chairman at the October 7 meeting.

Moser, a lifelong rancher and retired executive director of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, said he was interested in the challenge of serving on a new board and starting something from the ground up and seeing it become successful.

“As diverse a group as we are,” Moser told Industrial Commission members at their October 22 meeting, “I think we’re on the same page, so it’s a win-win for everybody. We’ll do the best we can to bring forward good project applications.”

Governor Dalrymple said the advisory board by design does include members from varied organizations. “When we proposed this fund to the legislature in our budget recommendation, I envisioned that this group of people, even though they come from different perspectives, are going to find a lot of common ground in terms of how to approach the challenge,” Dalrymple said. “And I think they’re going to agree 95 percent of the time on what is effective and what will produce the best results. And that really has a lot of value, because I think in the past we’ve had too much emphasis on the differences between groups, and the differences between people, in the way they view preservation of the outdoors. This is a great opportunity for us to turn it into a very positive initiative, where everybody is working together. They have a common goal. I’m confident that they’re going to find they have a lot of common ideas and they’ll find a lot of consensus.”

Now that the process and people to manage the Outdoor Heritage Fund are in place, the door is open for proposals both large and small that will improve North Dakota’s outdoors, for wildlife and people, for years to come.

“The Outdoor Heritage Fund has great potential to help us preserve and enhance the outdoors, and with strong public support could potentially lead to greater funding from the legislature in the next session.” Governor Dalrymple said. “So, we’ll see, but I think it’s going to be a very popular fund and a strong asset for the people of North Dakota.”

Outdoor Heritage  Fund advisory board meeting

The State Industrial Commission approved the Outdoor Heritage Fund application processes and project scoring methods at its October 22 meeting. Wade Moser (far left), chairman of the Heritage Fund advisory board, discussed the details with Commission members Doug Goehring, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner; North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenejhem.


Grant Application, Review and Scoring

Step One

Submission of application. Application forms are on the Industrial Commission website – and deadline for submitting is Monday, December 2.

Step Two

Review of application by staff. If application is incomplete, the applicant will have an opportunity to make corrections and resubmit within three business days.

Step Three

All complete applications submitted by the first deadline will be posted to the Outdoor Heritage Fund website.

Step Four

The Outdoor Heritage Fund technical committee, which consists of the four ex-officio members of the advisory board, reviews all applications. Technical committee members may use staff from their agencies, or work with outside experts, to determine whether an application meets the requirements of law, and satisfactorily addresses scientific aspects of the project. The technical committee does not participate in scoring the applications.

Step Five

Outdoor Heritage Fund advisory board members review applications, and at the January 2014 meeting (week of January 13-17, specific date not yet set) applicants will have 10 minutes to give an oral presentation, though an oral presentation is not a requirement, followed by time for questions.

Board members then score the applications and vote on recommendations to forward to the Industrial Commission. At its scheduled meeting on January 27, 2014 the Industrial Commission will award the first round of grants.

Future Application Periods

After the December 2 application deadline, three more application rounds are scheduled for 2014, with deadlines occurring on April 1, August 1 and November 1.