Little input on Con-Con drainage

By Mike
Kallok
Staff Writer

Bemidji, Minn. – Public input concluded July 25 on a set of
proposed rules for determining drainage benefits to the nearly 2
million acres of state-owned Consolidated Conservation areas.

Whether or not the rule change will survive will be determined
on August 24 by Barbara Neilson, an administrative law judge,
according to Michael Carroll, DNR regional director in Bemidji.

Carroll would not speculate on an outcome, but he said input
received came exclusively from drainage and watershed authorities
that would be affected by the rule change.

Minnesota’s Con-Con lands located in the counties of Aitkin,
Beltrami, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, and
Roseau became state-owned through tax forfeiture and legislative
action requested by the counties in 1929, 1931, and 1933.

The ditch system that serves these lands was established in the
early 1900s to make land suitable for farming, but since 1984 the
DNR has looked to discontinue drainage projects in areas of the
Con-Con where it is not beneficial to wildlife management
goals.

Those who farm or harvest timber on or adjacent to Con-Con lands
argue the ditches should be maintained in a way that is beneficial
to agriculture or agroforestry.

The conflict has a ’23-year history of not being resolved,’
Carroll said, noting that, in the past, there has been support for
the DNR’s wildlife management goals on Con-Con lands.

‘We were a little disappointed that there was no public comment
from outdoors, conservation, or environmental groups,’ he said.

‘In our mind, the question is, what is the positive or negative
impact to wildlife of pulling the water off that property,’ Carroll
said.

Since 1991, the DNR managed certain state-owned Con-Con lands in
Marshall, Beltrami, and Roseau counties as WMAs. In 1999 the
Legislature started a process where in the 2000 and 2002 session
all the remaining undesignated lands as well as the lands
identified to be managed as WMAs were granted an official
management designation.

By 1993, nearly all payments from the DNR to ditch authorities
in Con-Con areas had ceased, according to Carroll.

Today, a total 1,934,067 state-owned acres in those counties are
managed as state forests, parks, recreation areas, and WMAs.

After the judge’s decision in August, Carroll said the DNR will
move forward with the detailed 40-acre by 40-acre parcel
evaluation, which is outlined in the plan, Carroll said.

Regardless of the decision in August, Carroll said the DNR will
continue to work with the affected parties to address the past
assessments and future efforts to manage water in Con-Con areas
while protecting the high value of conservation lands.

The ‘DNR will continue to address, with numerous federal, tribal
and local cooperators, the bigger issue of drainage impacts to
state lands in Con-Con areas for years to come,’ he said.

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