By John Bradley
North Dakota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF) may be the best conservation tool in the state, yet if you stopped any hunter or angler at your favorite outdoor store, they would probably give you a blank stare if you asked them what the Outdoor Heritage Fund does. It’s understandable as projects are not highlighted well on the landscape. When you drive down a gravel road you might see a brood of pheasants run into some quality habitat, but you likely won’t see signs on that property like you do with PLOTS, WMAs or WPAs saying that cover was a OHF project. Still, the habitat and access projects are out there, benefiting North Dakota’s habitat, wildlife, and sportsmen. Unfortunately, plenty of people view the Outdoor Heritage Fund as an unneeded program and look to dismantle the program by capping its funding, attempting to siphon off funds for non-conservation projects, and advocating for not approving what appears to be worthy projects.
The Outdoor Heritage Fund began in 2013 and was established to provide grants to state agencies, tribal governments, political subdivisions, and nonprofit organizations, with higher priority given to projects that enhance conservation practices. Since its inception, OHF grants have proven valuable to a variety of projects on both private and public land. The OHF is funded from oil and gas production tax revenue and though that money supports projects such as access to public and private lands for sportsmen, farming and ranching stewardship practices for stronger soil and cleaner water, fish and wildlife habitat improvements and creation and maintenance of outdoor recreation areas.
The OHF brings together a diverse group of stakeholders including agriculture groups, conservation groups, a variety of energy interests, and the public. While board discussions on which projects should be funded can get heated, the results when the money hits the ground speak for themselves.
OHF projects have benefited every county in North Dakota. The last grant cycle awarded over $11.5 million to projects across the state and with every project requiring at least a 25% match from outside partners, the impact on the landscape gets maximized. That means rotational grazing systems can be implemented to restore grasslands on private ground. It means scattered parcels of degraded farmland can be restored back to grass. It means that pollinator plots that benefit both monarchs and pheasants get planted in the spring. And it means that the popular boat ramp that is in dire need of repair gets fixed. All in all, OHF projects have been effective in putting more habitat on the ground and enhancing access to hunters and anglers.
In its short history, OHF projects have increased habitat, wildlife, and sporting opportunities in North Dakota. The next round of grant funding for the Outdoor Heritage Fund begins May 3, 2021 and hunters and anglers need to step up and advocate for the continuation of the program and fight the false narrative that it is not needed. If you are a hunter or angler in the state, OHF is desperately needed and worth your efforts to preserve.
John Bradley is the Executive Director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation and a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer.
Featured Photo: Lots of Green. The Outdoor Heritage Fund has generated millions of dollars for habitat and conservation work in North Dakota, and every county has benefitted from the program. (OHF Image).