Half mil will assist in wetland enforcement

With dollars, DNR prepping plan to boost wetland
enforcement flights

By Tim
Spielman
Associate Editor

St. Paul – Two years ago, the DNR’s Enforcement Division took a
peek at what was possible in the realm of wetland enforcement
efforts via the air. Last year, the division made the detection of
violations by air a priority.

But in 2007, Operation Bird’s-Eye View took a slight reprieve –
although aerial observations continued, like they had prior to 2005
– partly because it wasn’t a top priority in the DNR’s work plan,
and partly because, some officials say, other agencies whose
workload increased because of the effort, needed time to catch
up.

Now, a legislative appropriation of $250,000 for each of the
next two years promises to put the stepped-up operation back on
track. The DNR this week was slated to pitch its Bird’s Eye View
plan to a legislative committee.

‘(Legislators) saw the value (of the wetland enforcement
flights) and wanted to see it continue,’ said Maj. Roger Tietz, DNR
Enforcement operations manager at Camp Ripley.

Addressing wetlands, waters, and aquatic plant-removal issues is
a complicated matter, officials say, and the process for
investigating and disposing of cases involves a number of agencies
and many possible outcomes.

Identifying possible violations by air is just the beginning,
Tietz said. After aerial ID of possible violations, ‘ground
truthing’ comes next – investigations usually conducted by
conservation officers or wetland officers who refer possible cases
to local authorities, perhaps officials from the local Soil and
Water Conservation District, county zoning office, watershed
district, or others. In some cases, DNR officers will cite
violators, or they may issue a cease and desist order. Eventually,
those found in violation of state law may be issued a restoration
order.

The bottom line, says John Jaschke, executive director for the
state Board of Water and Soil Resources: It’s not a simple
procedure. ‘It’s a challenge when we find a lot of violations,’ he
said, adding that sometimes, possible issues are worked out
administratively, prior to enforcement action.

BWSR serves as an umbrella for local SWCDs and oversees
implementation of the state’s Wetland Conservation Act, in the
process making sure landowner projects are compatible with state
rules. Appeals regarding wetland cases also can be made to
BWSR.

Jaschke said wetland flights are very effective, not only in
locating hard-to-reach lands where violations are occurring, but
also as a deterrent to wetland and waters violations.

That was made clear in 2006, when, following Operation Bird’s
Eye View in 24 counties, more than 500 possible violations were
identified. Of those, DNR officials said about 300 were water or
wetland-impact cases. About half of those were non-permitted
violations, and cease and desist orders were issued.

Jaschke said many of the violations included access issues –
landowners building driveways to homes or to recreational areas.
Other times, landowner efforts to dredge an area to create a
wetland (pond) for wildlife results in the destruction of existing
wetlands, he said.

Jaschke said some local government agencies may not have been
prepared for the increased workload resulting from the 2006 Bird’s
Eye effort.

‘We need to make sure we have folks prepared on the ground,’ he
said. ‘I think people will be more prepared than last time.’

If funding is an issue for local agencies, there might be aid
available, according to the DNR.

Tietz said the plan the DNR would pitch to legislators this week
would include funds (from the $250,000 appropriation for each of
the next two years) for air time, investigating areas identified as
possible violation sites, and more.

‘As we move through the process, if a cease-and-desist order and
restoration order have been issued, when a restoration order is
complete, there could be reimbursement to the local government for
labor,’ Tietz said, adding that the details of such a plan haven’t
been finalized.

The first heavy dose of Operation Bird’s Eye View served as a
learning experience for those involved, he said.

‘Moving into a very aggressive flight schedule, we did learn
that it created a tremendous workload for our staff and for local
officials,’ Tietz said.

State legislators took notice earlier this year when it was
reported Bird’s Eye View would be a less aggressive operation than
the previous year.

In a letter to the editor, Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul,
a supporter of the wetland flights, wrote: ‘At a time when over
80,000 acres of wetlands are destroyed in this country every year,
we in Minnesota need to be doing all we can to preserve our
precious natural resources.’

And in September, state Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis,
chair of the Environment Finance Committee, arranged the meeting
(held this week, after Outdoor News’ press time) to discuss reduced
wetland flyovers. ‘Many groups are concerned about the loss of
wetlands and the consequences, especially the loss of habitat,’ she
wrote to DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten.

DNR officials weren’t certain when Operation Bird’s Eye View
would kick in again. Larry Kramka, DNR assistant commissioner for
operations, said spring is the best time to begin such flights.
Wetland alterations are easy to see when leaves don’t grace trees,
and if violations are found, the summer provides time to take
corrective action. However, fall also provides pilots good vision
of wetlands alterations.

‘During a year like this year, when water levels were low, you
could do it any time of the year,’ Kramka said.

When the landscape is free of snow, winter flights aren’t out of
the realm of possibility, either.

Tietz said when flights focused on wetlands violations do take
place, they’re usually publicized.

‘We want to use this as an educational opportunity and we want
to deter the activity,’ he said.

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