St. Paul Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Monday his proposal to
expand the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to
include 100,000 acres in the lower Mississippi watershed in
southeastern Minnesota, the Missouri River watershed in the
southwest, and the Red River watershed in the northwest.
Under CREP, conservation easements are purchased from landowners
to provide a riparian buffer along waterways. The program has been
successful in the Minnesota River valley. The goal is to improve
water quality, reduce erosion, and enhance wildlife habitat.
“We have more freshwater than any other state in the continental
United States,” Pawlenty said. “Protecting and restoring this crown
jewel of our quality of life should be our number one environmental
The proposal is being forwarded to U.S. Agriculture Secretary
Ann Venneman for her approval. If the USDA accepts the governor’s
proposal, landowner easement sign-ups could begin as soon as March,
The proposal calls for 42,500 acres in the Red River watershed,
42,500 acres in the southeast, and 15,000 acres in the
CREP is considered a good deal for the state. The USDA pays 80
percent of the easement costs, with the state picking up the
remaining 20 percent.
About $200 million in federal funds are available for Minnesota,
requiring a state contribution of $46 million. To match the federal
contribution, the Legislature will have to bond for the state match
in the next two bienniums.
Under the governor’s proposal, two easement choices would be
available to landowners. The first is for 15 years, the length of a
federal Conservation Reserve Program contract, plus an additional
35 years, making the total life of the easement 50 years. The other
option is a perpetual easement.
Minnesota DNR commissioner Gene Merriam said easement payments
are economically balanced so there is no financial incentive or
disincentive based on the easement price. As an example, Merriam
said a southeastern Minnesota payment for a 50-year lease would be
$312 per acre, while a permanent lease would be $397 per acre.
“There was some tension regarding short-term versus long-term
easements during the develop of the governor’s proposal,” Merriam
said. “I think what the governor has proposed represents a
significant victory for conservation interests.”
Merriam joined Pawlenty on Monday when he held press conferences
for the proposal in St. Paul, Moorhead, and Windom. The proposal is
the cornerstone of the governor’s clean-water agenda, which also
includes refocusing local initiatives to maximize their value in
watersheds and the establishment of a “clean water cabinet” to make
clean water a top priority of state government. The governor also
wants to make the Mississippi River “swimmable” and “fishable”