- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - An international habitat conservation and hunting organization wants to buy farmland to restore wetlands in North Dakota, but it must first get approval this week from key agricultural and wildlife groups.

Ducks Unlimited wants to buy 47 acres north of Carrington from a local farmer to restore the former wetlands and allow for public youth hunting. The organization will present its proposal at the Foster County courthouse Thursday before an advisory committee made up of public and private agricultural and wildlife groups.

The committee will take into account public comments and concerns of the project, and decide whether to recommend the proposal to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who must approve all purchases by nonprofit organizations who want to buy farmland to preserve natural areas or wildlife habitat.

Ducks Unlimited’s previous proposals to buy farmland for preservation have been denied several times, mainly by groups that want to keep the land devoted to agriculture. In 2009, the group was unsuccessful in trying to buy a large parcel of land for the third time in 2 ½ years.

In its proposal, the organization said the current land hasn’t been productive farmland because the drainage ditches have depleted the existing wetland, but not enough to provide for good agriculture production.

Steve Adair, the Great Plains regional director of operations for Ducks Unlimited, said he’s more hopeful this year’s proposal will be approved because it would restore the property’s wetlands by plugging the drainage ditches. That would be considered wetland mitigation, which is the process of offsetting impacts to natural wetlands by restoring them elsewhere. Mitigation is required for infrastructure projects in the state that affect wetlands.

“We think it’ll be better received by the state’s decision makers than some of those other ones,” he said.

Ducks Unlimited also plans to restore prairie grasses to any upland areas on the property.

North Dakota Farmer’s Union President Mark Watne, who sits on the advisory committee, said his organization has a policy that opposes land acquisition by conservation groups.

“We have those concerns, just in an essence, that it takes (the land) away from the agricultural industry,” he said.

Watne is likely to oppose the purchase, but said his final decision would depend on what local people had to say Thursday.

North Dakota Farm Bureau president Doyle Johannes said it’s possible this proposal could work.

“On the surface, I don’t see a big problem with it,” said Johannes, who is also on the committee, “but then I don’t know what the local sentiment on it is.”

The state’s Game and Fish Department supports the project, according to its deputy director Scott Peterson, but said the agency would make its final judgment on Thursday. Peterson, who is a voting member, said Ducks Unlimited plans to pay taxes on the land, despite being a nonprofit organization.

“We don’t really have a good reason not to approve it,” he said.

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