You may be reading in the papers this week a letter to the editor from a young man named Jacob Odermann. If you haven’t read it, go here. It’s about the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment headed for the ballot this fall if all goes right. I don’t know Jacob, but his dad, James, has been a friend of mine in passing for more than 40 years. At different times we held the same job at the Dickinson Press and respected each other’s work.
Now most of my friends know I am not totally sold on the proposed amendment, precisely because it is just that—a constitutional amendment. I wished it had been handled differently, and I don’t like all the details in it, but it is what we’ve got, so I am going to support it. We need to do SOMETHING. I just hope the sponsors know what they are doing. I signed their petition last week.
But back to Jacob’s letter. I was disappointed that he used a bunch of the hyperbole and misinformation that the Petroleum Council and Chamber of Commerce (now there are two good reasons to take a position on this measure, I guess) have been spreading. Since I knew it was bullshit, I decided to write a response. But then I thought about my friendship of all these years with his dad, and decided not to send it. I don’t have a son, but if I did, I would not like someone, especially a friend, publicly humiliating him, even if he deserved it. Still, I had invested some time in it, and I don’t want that to go to waste, so I thought I’d put it here on my blog, which almost no one reads. And maybe someone else who reads this will use the information in it to send a letter refuting Jacob’s letter. It needs to be corrected. And I’m sure it will be, in the ongoing “letters to the editor war.” The proponents of the measure have been doing a good job of responding to inaccurate portrayals of their measure. Maybe I’ll help them later on, after they’ve gotten the signatures and its place on the ballot is insured. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share with my few readers what I wrote, so all of you are armed with correct information if you need to be. I wrote:
Young Mr. Odermann should get his facts right. And it wouldn’t hurt for newspaper editors to do a little fact-checking before printing letters like the one Jacob sent to your newspaper. I don’t know this young fellow, but I do know his dad, and his dad was a journalist of high caliber. Maybe Jacob just needs to run his letters by his dad before sending them.
Let’s start at the top. First, Jacob says there will be $300 million per biennium in the new Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks fund. The correct number, from everything I can read is $150 million. That number comes from the North Dakota Office of Management and Budget.
One farmer or rancher? Well, the measure guarantees at least one farmer or rancher, but there could be as many as 7 or 8, depending on who the Governor and the Legislature want to appoint. They are given broad flexibility to appoint farmers or non-farmers, as they please. So blame the Governor and the Legislature if there is only one farmer on the advisory board.
The fund will not be managed by that volunteer board, as Jacob says. The measure clearly states that “There is created a clean water, wildlife and parks commission that shall be comprised of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. The commission shall govern the fund in accord with this section.” The “citizen accountability board” which Jacob speaks of simply provides grant recommendations to the commission. All spending and granting decisions are made by our elected officials, who answer to the voters at the ballot box every 4 years.
Young Jacob is concerned that conservation organizations like Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited will use government money to “compete against a private citizen interested in purchasing land.” Well, I suppose so, but only if the Governor, the Attorney General and the Agriculture Commissioner approve that. They control the money. Run that up Doug Goehring and Jack Dalrymple’s flagpoles and see how it flies.
And then young Jacob talks about “another commission of 13 bureaucrats in Bismarck.” Well, he’s got all the buzzwords down. Except my dictionary defines bureaucrat as “a person who is one of the people who runs a government or big company . . .” Hardly the definition of a volunteer citizens’ advisory committee. Bureaucrats is a word used to incite animosity, but it is not appropriate here. Deceitful, Jacob.
Jacob concludes with “Why don’t we increase the monetary incentive to landowners to participate in programs like the Conservation Reserve Program or North Dakota’s Private Lands Open To Sportsmen?”
Well, if Jacob had done his homework, he would know that this is exactly what the sponsors of this amendment have in mind, and he would have appeared a little less greedy to get his hands on this government money for himself. I’m a member of Pheasants Forever, and our organization doesn’t own any land that I know of. We work with farmers to make habitat. Ducks Unlimited, as far as I know, wants to provide nesting habitat for waterfowl. It prefers to work in partnership with landowners, not become one. If this amendment passes, my guess is that much of the money will go to farmers to help them create habitat for wildlife. Not to purchase land. For a conservation organization, owning land to make habitat is a pain in the ass. Paying farmers to make habitat (and provide hunting access) is the best way to make that happen. Everyone wins.
Jacob comes from a journalism family. He should know better than to pass off hyperbole as fact. In the end, it will just prove embarrassing.