RIM sights set on northwest, southeast

Associate Editor

St. Paul Though funding for the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM)
program via state bonding won’t meet the hopes of Board of Water
and Soil Resources officials, they say plans are in place to expand
a program, which already protects about 50,000 acres in the
Minnesota River Valley.

BWSR, along with most other state agencies, waited earlier this
week for Gov. Jesse Ventura’s actions on the state bonding bill
passed by the Legislature. The bill included nearly $1 billion for
state projects, including $2 million for RIM projects administered
by BWSR. In an initial budget request, BWSR officials sought more
than $20 million for RIM Reserve and Permanent Wetlands Preserve
Programs.

Kevin Lines, BWSR’s conservation easement section manager, said
proposals currently are in the works to expand the RIM Reserve
program to the Red River Valley in northwestern Minnesota, and to a
portion of southeastern Minnesota including 17 counties.

“The proposals aren’t yet approved (by the U.S. Dept. of
Agriculture), but they have potential,” Lines said this week.

These projects, like the Minnesota River Valley RIM project,
would combine state funding with the federal Conservation Reserve
Enhancement Program, to “set aside” marginal ag land for
conservation purposes, whether grassland, wetland, or otherwise.
The RIM Reserve/CREP combination follows the land’s enrollment in
the federal Conservation Reserve Program. Combined, the programs
take land out of production for a minimum of 35 years, Lines said.
CRP typically retires land for 10 to 15 years.

“Historically, the Legislature has said it should be a perpetual
easement that we should be emphasizing,” he added.

Land enrollment is ongoing for RIM in the Minnesota River
Valley. To date, about 50,000 of an anticipated 100,000 acres of
“environmentally sensitive” acres have been retired along the
river.

The two other potential projects are just as aggressive.

In the southeast, in areas of prime turkey habitat, Lines said
BWSR is targeting about 95,700 acres to improve or protect
wetlands, riparian land, highly erodible soils, and groundwater.
Lines said retirement of land in that area would be slightly higher
than the cost of the Minnesota River Valley project roughly $100
per acre.

In the northwest, along the Red River Valley, BWSR will join
forces with North Dakota to pitch a 200,000-acre plan to the feds.
Each state will hold half the total acreage. Cost per acre there
would be approximately $40 to $45 per acre.

States must contribute 20 percent in RIM funds, while federal
CREP accounts for the other 80 percent of funds for set-asides.
Lines said while state funding helps “leverage” and otherwise
secure federal funds, state legislators grudgingly provide funding
for projects not yet approved by the USDA.

Federal conservation programs, including CRP, recently received
a boost when President Bush signed the Farm Bill. The bill
increases CRP acreage and puts the program in place for another six
years.

Lines said he’s confident the USDA will approve the proposals
for Minnesota. Federally approved projects could mean increased
federal funding.

“Two million dollars will not go very far,” he said.

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