WMAs fare well in House bonding bill

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

St. Paul — Moments after a dedicated funding bill passed out of
another House committee, other representatives were busy unveiling
an uncharacteristically large bonding bill.

And that all came one day after the Senate passed its version of
dedicated funding off the floor, marking the first time either
legislative body has signed off on the idea.

The hope is to have dedicated funding and bonding bills – and
possibly Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources reform and
the Clean Water Legacy Act – passed out of both bodies and into a
conference committee by Easter break, said Gary Botzek of the
Minnesota Conservation Federation and Minnesota Waters, and chair
of Minnesota Environmental Partnership’s government relations

That could impart additional importance to the Capitol Mall
rally, scheduled for April 22.

A big turnout and show of support for the conservation bills
would be important because the legislation would be in “pivotal
positions as far as getting through the Legislature,” Botzek

The House bonding proposal totals nearly $950 million, while a
Senate plan approved last week would borrow about $990 million.
Both plans are more than $130 million more than the bonding
proposal outlined by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Highlights of the House bonding package include:

  • $18 million for acquisition of wildlife management areas
    (Senate proposal was $10 million). An additional $7 million would
    be available for a specific WMA in Dakota County, according to John
    Tuma of MEP.
  • $8 million for large-scale forest conservation easements
    (Senate proposal was $6 million).
  • $4 million for fisheries acquisition and improvement (Senate
    proposal was $2 million).
  • $2.7 million for RIM Reserve and the second round of the
    Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (Senate proposal was
  • $14.5 million for Clean Water Legacy.
  • $10.7 million for trails.

At $101 million, the DNR in the House proposal received the
largest chunk of dollars to be allocated to the environment and
agriculture, which totaled about $122 million.

Bob Meier, DNR legislative affairs director, said the agency is
largely satisfied with the bill.

“Recognizing the pressure and demands that are out there, we
feel this is a pretty good package,” he said.

On WMA funding: “You combine that with the support we received
last year, and we can really make a big difference on the ground,”
Meier said. The DNR received $10 million for WMAs last year.

But nearly as important of a priority to the agency is money for
forest conservation easements to protect large chunks of forest,
which, in the north, are almost like WMAs and provide public access
for activities like hunting.

The agency had requested $10 million for such easements.

“We anticipate having matching funds available for $10 million,”
Meier said. “(If funding isn’t increased) we are going to lose the
opportunity to match some private dollars that are out there.”

Missing altogether from the Senate bonding bill, and funded at
just under $3 million in the House bill, is money for CREP. A
bonding bill passed last year included $23 million for the
conservation program. CREP supporters had hoped for close to $30
million this year to complete the second half of the program, which
would set aside 120,000 acres.

However, as long as CREP remains in the House bill, it would be
discussed in a conference committee, where the total could be

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