State taxpayers this week have their clearest view yet of
potential expenditures from the dedicated funding voters approved
in November. Well, at least the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council
provided some insight into the $68.7 million for which it’s
responsible. The Council whittled 150 projects (with a total price
tag of about $250 million) down to 18 as of this week. Though the
fat lady won’t sing until the Legislature adjourns in May, the LOHC
generally adhered to reasonable fish and wildlife management
priorities with its list.
The Upper Mississippi River Project, which this newspaper has
described in detail, would receive the largest chunk of funds at
$20 million. The LOHC likely would fund the remainder of the $42.7
million request in Fiscal Year 2011. Other requests receiving
funding include waterfowl production areas (via Pheasants Forever,
Ducks Unlimited, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), DNR
Wildlife for accelerated grassland management and wildlife
management areas acquisition, shallow lakes enhancement, and RIM
wetlands funding (at $9.1 million) for the Board of Water and
Soil_Resources. These are just the types of projects proponents
wanted funded when the sales tax concept coalesced a decade ago.
The $69 million in sales tax, by the way, is securing $35 million
in matching funds from other government agencies and
Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, 77 will see some funding from
dedicated funding this year. Even the metro area projects don’t
strike me as unreasonable, though the calls last week for more
“geographic balance” from two council members was unnecessary. Some
metro projects, such as the Vermillion WMA, stick to the spirit of
dedicated funding and deserve consideration from the LOHC. But
including more metro projects for the sake of pleasing constituents
(including this taxpayer) is shortsighted. Spend this money where
it’s needed most: to restore our prairies, wetlands, and forests.
The state has a whole pot of parks money, and a bill from Alice
Hausman last week would insist that the MET Council receive 45
percent (probably $12 million or more) of those dollars. Bottom
line, the metro will receive a solid chunk of overall dedicated
sales tax funding, and I seriously doubt many metro
conservationists object to the vast majority of LOHC-distributed
dollars heading to greater Minnesota.
Council Chairman Mike Kilgore said, “The council has put
conservation first. We can defend this.” To the dedicated funding
boosters, he’s absolutely right. When the dust settles – provided
the Legislature doesn’t tinker too much with it – the LOHC has
protected 8,749 acres via fee title and another 201,395 acres via
easements. That’s property that will be open for hunting and
fishing and will be managed for wildlife for generations. Another
nearly 22,000 acres are slated for enhancement or restoration.
Now, the session ain’t over till it’s over, but as I write these
words on March 16, it looks to me like we’re accomplishing exactly
what we set out to achieve when we voted yes last fall.
Associate Editor Joe
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