- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Supporters of spending potentially billions of dollars of North Dakota’s oil tax revenues on conservation projects have sent a campaign mailer asking residents to protect “North Dakota heritage.” The problem? The advertisement depicts the Badlands in South Dakota - not those in North Dakota.

“We just made a mistake,” Steve Adair, chairman of the group North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks, said Wednesday. “We certainly won’t use that image again on things.”

The picture in the ad mailed to North Dakota residents this month was a stock photo of South Dakota’s badlands and was mistakenly used by a Virginia-based company that crafted the mailer, he said.

Adair’s group is the sponsor of the measure that would funnel some of the state’s oil extraction taxes into a conservation fund. Supporters want 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction taxes set aside over the next 25 years, a sum opponents said would direct almost $5 billion during that time for conservation projects at the expense of other state needs.

The ballot measure is one of the most controversial issues facing North Dakota voters in November and has spawned well-funded media campaigns from supporters and foes.

“They can’t even tell the difference between North Dakota and South Dakota,” said Jon Godfread, chairman of the anti-measure group North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation, and vice president of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce.

“This just smacks of a campaign run by out-of-state interests,” Godfread said. “If they don’t know North Dakota, it’s not in our best interest to give them $5 billion.”

Support for the measure comes largely from national conservation groups. Backers have raised nearly $3 million to push the measure, with about $2 million coming from Ducks Unlimited - of which Adair is the director - campaign filings show. Opponents have raised nearly $2 million, with more than half of it coming from the Washington, D.C.- based American Petroleum Institute, reports show.

Adair said the measure’s foes are using the picture gaffe as an attempt to divert the issue of setting aside more money for conservation projects in North Dakota. He said opponents of the measure also have misused a stock photo on their Facebook page, pointing to an image showing school children by a chalkboard.

Godfread said he did not know if the children were from North Dakota but called it an “apples and oranges” comparison.

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