Concerns mount over land acquisition

St. Paul – Concern is high among public-land advocates following
House action last week that eliminated all $4.2 million in land
acquisition funds from the bill that appropriates money from the
Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, offered the amendment to remove
acquisition funding and use it for park improvement. He wasn’t
available for comment as of Outdoor News’ press time.

Other amendments, offered by Democrats and Republicans alike,
would have precluded the Legislative-Citizens Commission on
Minnesota Resources from funding acquisitions during the next grant
cycle, or used lottery proceeds to plug part of the state budget
deficit.

Other House and Senate bills would enact a moratorium on
building new public lake accesses.

“We’re pretty shocked the LCCMR package was raided, basically,”
said Susan Schmidt, state director for the Trust for Public
Land.

There also is concern about how the House might view the
recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which
include land acquisition. It’s unclear when that bill will be
heard. Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown and chair of the committee
that handles the council’s recommendations, did not return calls
for comment.

A Senate committee earlier this week approved the LCCMR package;
the land acquisitions are still part of that bill. The L-SOHC bill
was scheduled to be heard Wednesday.

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley and Environment and Natural
Resources Committee chair, doesn’t believe the Senate will strip
acquisition funds.

“We already have met with leadership in the Senate and briefed
them,” he said. “We are prepared for a leadership-level discussion
of this cockamamie behavior, to put it bluntly.”

Some lawmakers have held up a recent legislative audit as one
reason to limit land acquisition. While the report said the DNR
appears to lack the resources to manage the lands it already owns,
it’s not anti public land, said Mark Johnson, executive director of
the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

Some lawmakers have “taken excerpts and neglected to comprehend
what it actually said,” he said. “The report didn’t necessarily say
we shouldn’t be purchasing public lands.”

Lance Ness, president of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative
Alliance, isn’t sure what’s behind the public land opposition, but
said it could be the audit results, the economy, or the state
budget deficit.

“All of the sudden there is this strange attitude about no more
public lands and accesses,” he said. “I’ve never seen such a broad
swath of anti land acquisition sentiment.”

In addition to the Legislature, counties and others also have
questioned acquiring public land. Last week, for example, the
McLeod County Board of Commissioners discussed a resolution that
would have made the county one with a policy of no net-gain of
public land.

The resolution failed.

“I would say you had a good 50-plus people there, the majority
of whom were sportsmen” and opposed to the resolution, said Garry
Leaf, of Sportsmen for Change.

Public land advocates say strategic acquisition of public land
is an important part of a broader conservation strategy. They also
say lands like wildlife management areas, for example, provide
places for people to hunt.

Leaf believes much of the opposition is targeted at WMAs.

“They’re trying to undermine, through a number of different
ways, projects that hunters and anglers care about – mainly WMAs,”
he said.

As of earlier this week, the L-SOHC bill hadn’t been heard in
the House or Senate.

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