Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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MN: Public land debate takes center stage

McNamara offers

land management account concept

St. Paul – Members of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council on
Monday had a lively discussion about potential amendments to the
bill carrying their funding recommendations.

The one that drew the most back-and-forth during the council’s
meeting: the creation of an “Outdoor Heritage Land Restoration and
Enhancement Account,” which would set aside Outdoor Heritage Fund
money to compensate local government units for costs they incur
when land becomes public, and to pay for long-term maintenance of
land acquired with amendment funds.

Under the proposal, floated by Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, who
chairs the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy
and Finance Committee and sits on the L-SOHC, for every $1 of land
acquired, 20 cents would be set aside.

The current year’s proposal from the L-SOHC contains about $28
million in land acquisition. Twenty percent of that – or $5.6
million – would go into the account.

“I’m not taking the money out of here and using it for textbooks or
to buy highways,” McNamara said. “I’m saying let’s deal with
(long-term management) up front.”

Doing so, he said, would eliminate the argument some lawmakers make
that the state can’t afford to buy more land.

But his proposal got mixed reviews from other members of the
council. Council chair Jim Cox criticized the amount of General
Fund dollars that go to maintaining state lands, and said the
council already recommends spending money to enhance public
lands.

“We have, and certainly will in the future, pay for these costs,”
Cox said. (The council will elect a chair next month. Cox was
previously vice chair, but became chair after Mike Kilgore’s term
expired. Cox, or any other member, could be elected at the March 18
meeting.)

Council member Scott Rall wanted to know what safeguards would be
put into place to ensure the account wasn’t raided. He also
suggested holding the funds outside of government, perhaps in a
trust account.

The bills carrying the recommendations of the L-SOHC are SF 158 and
HF 471, authored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and
McNamara, respectively.

CO academy?

The DNR would hire 20 new conservation officers – eight in fiscal
year 2012 and 12 in fiscal year 2013 – under a portion of Gov. Mark
Dayton’s budget plan. The earliest an academy would start is next
February or March, said Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement Division
director.

The division is down about 25 officers right now, and about 20
officers are expected to retire in the next couple of years.

“It would maintain vacancies at the current level,” Konrad said.
“At least we wouldn’t lose any more ground.”

Dayton’s budget doesn’t use General Fund money; dollars would come
from dedicated funds.

Fish hatcheries

The DNR would be out of the muskie and walleye hatching and rearing
business within about five years under HF 635, introduced earlier
this week by Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar.

The bill would mandate the DNR to decrease its muskie and walleye
fry to fingerling production level by 20 percent in each 2011,
2012, 2013, and 2014. The bill also would require the agency to
close the offices and hatcheries – and sell the hatchery assets –
that are no longer needed.

Dill’s bills

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, introduced a number of game and
fish policy bills earlier this week. They are:

• HF 619, which would eliminate the 16-foot stand height
restriction for people hunting deer, elk, and moose.

• HF 1620, which would allow bear hunters on private land to use a
30-gallon or larger drum for baiting bears.

• HF 621, which would allow counties to offer a bounty for beavers
and coyotes.

 

 

Cornish pitches ‘no net loss’ of public

hunting lands bill

St. Paul – Two bills that deal in two ways with public land got
their first public airing last week at the Legislature.

The first, HF 332, would create a statewide policy of no net gain
of public land.

“We do have more land – and have plans to buy more land – than we
can afford to manage properly,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski,
R-Mazeppa, who is carrying the bill.

The other bill, HF 498, would put in place a policy of no net loss
of state hunting land.

“This is not a mandate to buy land,” said Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good
Thunder, who’s carrying the bill. “This is a fail-safe just to keep
what we have. Folks need places to hunt.”

The House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and
Finance Committee heard the bills last week and laid them over.
It’s unclear what the next step is, though the topics contained
within are nearly certain to pop up again this session.

Public land has been in some lawmakers’ crosshairs in recent years.
Many say the state can’t afford to manage the land it owns
already.

Proponents, though, point to the public access for hunting,
fishing, and other recreational endeavors that public land affords.
They also say it’s an economic boon, especially to rural cities and
towns, and that it has environmental benefits.

Don Arnosti, policy director for Audubon Minnesota, spoke in
opposition to Drazkowski’s bill, calling it overly simplistic. He
noted that some counties in the northern part of the state are made
up of more than 80 percent public land, while less than 1 percent
of the land in some southern counties is public.

“It is very, very difficult to pass a bill this simple and make it
fit right in Minnesota,” he said.

Lance Ness, president of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative
Alliance, also spoke against the bill. He said it’s duplicative of
current law that allows counties the right to refuse sales. There’s
also a provision that allows for appeal and dispute resolution, he
said.

But if counties reject a DNR land purchase, there is “fear of some
type of payback, you might say,” said Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau.
“We have to be cognizant of the fact that has existed in the
past.”

Kent Sulem, general counsel for the Minnesota Association of
Townships, said his association has concerns about more land coming
off the tax rolls. But the association supports protection for the
environment, he said.

Sulem recommended that lawmakers consider a “short-term moratorium”
on public land acquisition and the creation of a working group to
look at topics such as payment in lieu of taxes.

Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, floated the idea of selling public land
but retaining hunting access to it through easements. That would
limit ownership by the government, but maintain “heritage in
allowing hunting,” he said.

The Minnesota Farm Bureau supports Drazkowski’s bill, said Chris
Radatz, the group’s public policy director. A variety of groups
spoke in support of Cornish’s bill.

“We do not support the Drazkowski bill as written; we do support
the Cornish bill as written,” said Gary Botzek, executive director
of the Minnesota Conservation Federation.

Cornish’s bill is similar to one that’s been enacted in other
states, including Arkansas, Florida, and Missouri, said Garry Leaf,
executive director of Sportsmen for Change. It’s also consistent
with what Minnesota voters voted for when they passed the Clean
Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, he said.

“Public lands mean public access,” Leaf said.

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