Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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CREP, WMAs win in governor’s proposal

Associate Editor

St. Paul When Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty unveiled a $147
million portion of his bonding proposal on Monday, he said it could
dramatically improve the state’s natural resources.

“This is one of the leading pieces of the (overall) bonding
bill,” he said.

Perhaps most notable in the governor’s bonding proposal are $12
million for expansion and improvement to the state’s wildlife
management area system and $22 million as part of the package to
add 100,000 acres to the Minnesota’s Conservation Reserve
Enhancement Program.

WMA acquisition

Pawlenty said additional funding for WMAs was the “highlight” of
his proposal. The $12 million could be used to purchase about 9,000
acres, he said.

Kim Hennings, land acquisition coordinator for the DNR, said the
proposed $12 million which must be approved by the state
Legislature would be “significantly higher” than past bonding
amounts for WMA acquisition. In fact, during the past decade, funds
from state bonding for WMAs has averaged less than $1 million, he
said.

“We’re excited about this (amount in the governor’s proposal),”
he said. “This is a nice level compared to what we’ve seen in the
past.”

Other sources of funding for WMAs have been the Future Resources
Fund and the Environmental Trust Fund. Further, a portion of the
small game surcharge (which recently increased from $4 to $6.50 per
license) contributed just under $1 million last year.

Hennings said the amount of land the department can purchase
will be dependent on the selling price, currently averaging about
$1,000 or slightly more. The highest priority for land acquisition
is in the southern half of the state, say members of the Citizens’
Advisory Committee that submitted a plan in 2002.

In that report, the committee composed of a wide range of
conservation groups recommended expanding the now 1.1 million-acre
WMA system by another 700,000 acres over the next 50 years. The
recommendation included an accelerated pace of acquisition during
the first 10 years when 30 percent of the goal would be purchased.
The estimated price tag was at least $20 million per year.

Hennings said locating land to purchase is usually the easiest
part of land acquisition. Field managers identify willing sellers
during the year, and forward them to regional managers who
prioritize the offers before sending them to Hennings. Hennings
then prioritizes them on a state level.

DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam was pleased the governor accepted
the agency’s proposal for WMA acquisition funding.

“We’re really excited to advance the agenda of the wildlife land
acquisition task force (WMA committee),” he said. “They called on
the state to do more, and $12 million will allow us to begin
expanded and accelerated land acquisition and expansion.”

Some conservation groups suggested the governor include in his
proposal $20 million for WMAs, similar to the amount recommended in
the committee report. In fact, a few of them together penned a note
to Pawlenty prior to his announcement.

While complimenting Pawlenty on the inclusion of CREP funding in
his proposal, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership states: “We
appreciate the governor’s attempt to protect and restore
Minnesota’s rivers, lakes and streams from neglect, runoff, and
contamination; however, the need is much greater than his
recommendations reflect.

“As an example, he does not include any funds for streambank and
lakeshore erosion control (MEP had recommended $5.3 million for
this program),” a news release states.

CREP funding

Another piece of the conservation puzzle that Pawlenty included
in his bonding proposal was $22 million for another round of the
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which combines one of the
most successful federal set-aside programs with a state
program.

Farm groups have opposed the permanent easement language of the
governor’s CREP proposal. Pawlenty said later this week he and the
opposition will attempt to reach a compromise.

“We haven’t yet succeeded in finding that common ground,”
Pawlenty said Monday.

However, Pawlenty said during conference call that he’d stand
firm in demanding that landowners be able to permanently retire
marginal farmland. But he’d be willing to compromise, too.

“I don’t want perfect to get in the way of good,” he said. “I
don’t want to walk away from $236 million in conservation
moneys.”

Other components of governor’s proposed bonding bill
included:

$20 million for flood mitigation and dam safety projects to
reduce soil erosion and downstream flooding while increasing water
availability;

$570,000 to fund an agricultural water management research
project to help farmers lear how to effectively manage rural
drainage systems to reduce sediment flow into waterways;

$4 million to match private donations to acquire ecologically
sensitive land and safeguard threatened land critical to plants and
animals (RIM Critical Habitat Match);

$1.05 million to acquire aquatic management area lands and
develop fisheries habitat;

$2 million to fund the rehabilitation of five state trails by
repairing bridges, controlling erosion, and stabilizing the
land;

$2 million for the acquisition of private land within state
parks to prevent development pressure;

$3 million for state reforestation efforts and $1 million for
county reforestation projects that includes the planting of 7
million trees on more than 13,300 acres of state and county
forests;

$1 million to fund the acquisition of more than 250 acres of
private land within state forests to reduce outside development
pressure;

$1 million to fund an ongoing program to rebuild and maintain
forest roads and bridges;

An additional $16 million for miscellaneous DNR capital and
preservation and other projects.

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