Politicians will say the darnedest things in an election year. Take Jack Dalrymple. Please. Someone. (Sorry. Just kidding. Old joke. Couldn’t resist.)
The Governor addressed a Conference on the Future of Hunting that I attended last week. It was put together by North Dakota’s wildlife organizations, with some assistance from the State Game and Fish Department. Impetus for the event came from the impact oil development is having on wildlife and habitat in the western part of the state, although, truth be told, there was little talk of that, and more generally it was a pretty traditional gathering of wildlife types to bemoan the fact that it is hard to find a place to hunt (generally not true, but a great whipping boy for people looking for a reason to whine) and to fret over a much more legitimate concern, the decline in the number of acres enrolled in the CRP program, which has been the basis for the building of the greatest wildlife boom in our state’s history. It was a generally successful conference as these things go. Problems were identified and some solutions suggested. We have our work cut out for us.
The Governor, to his credit, came to the meeting prepared to address both the oil impact and the loss of CRP, head-on. But he made a bit of a fool of himself by pandering to the 150 or mostly wildlife-savvy North Dakotans in the audience, pretending to know what he was talking about, and telling them something that wasn’t true, and not knowing that they all knew it wasn’t true. It was reminiscent of that quote from Will Rogers: “It’s not what he doesn’t know that bothers me, it’s what he knows for sure that just ain’t so.”
Now, obviously the Governor had been briefed on what was on the mind of this crowd. We all know that the CRP program is in big trouble. The combination of diminishing farm program budgets and high commodity prices has the CRP program in a tailspin. North Dakota has already lost almost 2/3 of its CRP acres and is on track to lose 90 per cent of those set-aside acres that pheasants, ducks, and deer love to live in (see the chart below, provided by the Game and Fish Department). That’s on the minds of every North Dakota hunter, the entire outdoors tourism industry, and certainly all the wildlife professionals who were in the room last week. The Governor had been told before the speech that this issue would figure prominently in our discussions over the course of the 2-day conference.
And so he got up and said, much to all our surprise, that we shouldn’t be worried about losing our CRP–that we should not accept the presumption that we are going to lose a lot of CRP. He said that the people writing the new farm bill will not allow CRP to expire. As he was saying this, his Game and Fish Department staff was handing out a brochure that included this chart, which says we’re going to go from 3 million acres of CRP in 2007 down to about 300,000 acres by 2019. It said that we’re actually going to be under one million acres next year—just a third of what we had as recently as 2006.
Now maybe the Governor knows about some secret deal between Harry Reid and John Boehner and Barack Obama that is going to put enough money in the farm bill to maintain CRP. If so, he should probably tell Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, and Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, and Senator John Hoeven, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee which will fund the farm bill, and also a member, along with Senator Conrad, of the Senate Agriculture committee, which is writing the Farm Bill, and Representative Rick Berg, who votes for the Ryan budgets. Because they sure don’t know about it.
Or maybe the Governor just made that up, like he made up his story a couple of weeks ago about putting 100,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota into the Keystone Pipeline. Maybe he just made that up because he knew we would like to hear that, and that we wouldn’t know any better. Except that we do. Because we hunt North Dakota, and we can drive the Governor directly to those fields that were CRP last year and are black dirt this spring. And we know which fields on our cousin’s farm are coming out of CRP this year. We know that we have already lost almost two-thirds of our CRP and are about to lose most of the rest of it. And we were staring at the brochure his staff was handing out showing us that.
Well, we clapped when he was done, because we always clap for Governors, and because we were appreciative that he had taken time from his busy schedule to be with us, even though we knew it was an election year, and hunters vote . . . And then the damage control started. And it lasted all through the two-day conference.
First it was the Governor’s appointee, Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand, speaking as part of the first panel discussion right after the Governor finished his remarks and left: “I hope the Governor is right and that we will be able to stem the tide of the loss of CRP.”
Then it was former Republican State Representative and avid outdoorsman Darrell Nottestad, as part of his panel presentation: “I hope the Governor is right.”
Both emphasized the word “hope.”
Then, one of Steinwand’s staff, whose name I won’t use to keep him out of trouble: “I don’t know about what the Governor said about CRP. It is slipping away.”
Then Keith Trego, executive director of the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, probably most knowledgeable man in North Dakota about federal programs and the impact they have on wildlife: “I hope some of the optimistic things we’ve heard about its (CRP) retention come to be, but we’ll see.”
It was actually kind of embarrassing, because we were there to talk about things we could do as hunters to make up for the loss of habitat CRP provides, and so we had to kind of dance around the issue a bit to keep from making the Governor look any more foolish.
Now I don’t mean to pick on the Governor, but I’m starting to see an election year pattern here, where he’s fudging the facts for political purposes. I don’t think it is so much a cold calculation as it is that he is being ill-served by his staff, especially, I think, his campaign staff, whoever they are. The Governor is a busy guy right now and has to rely on information provided him by his staff, and he has to hope that information is accurate. Because if it isn’t, and he is passing it off as fact, someone is going to call him on it. Like when he said in that national radio address that the Keystone Pipeline was scheduled to take 100,000 barrels of North Dakota oil (by the way, since we called him on that a couple weeks ago, he’s changed his language a bit, and is now using the phrases “Bakken oil” and “Williston Basin crude oil” instead of “North Dakota oil” in his press releases).
I don’t want to call the Governor a rookie at this campaign game, because he did run for the U.S. Senate against Kent Conrad 20 years ago, but this is his first real statewide race on his own since then, instead of as understudy to John Hoeven, and these look like rookie mistakes. He needs to remember that he is the GOVERNOR now and it is important that he be accurate, and not make stuff up for political purposes.
Like some of the other stuff he said at the Hunting Conference:
Acknowledging our fears as hunters that the oil boom is out of control and is adversely affecting wildlife and habitat and hunting, and trying to assuage those fears, he said “The oil companies say we are within 10 per cent of the largest workforce we will have.” In other words, the top of the boom is in sight. Well, we were all glad to hear that. Really, really glad. Until Kari Cutting from the North Dakota Petroleum Council—which speaks for the entire oil industry—told us in her panel discussion presentation that there are 35,000 direct jobs in the oil industry right now, and that there will be 65,000 direct jobs in the oil industry by 2020. And that there are 2-3 indirect jobs created for each of those direct jobs. So that would mean somewhere around another 100,000 jobs in the next 7½ years. A pretty far cry from what the Governor said.
I could go on about his promises to make wildlife a major consideration when issuing drilling permits and leasing state school lands, and I’m going to follow up on those things in the next few days, but you get the drift.
It’s one of those years divisible by 4, and politicians say the darnedest things in those years.