MN: Lessard council debates public land acquisition

St. Paul – The debate about public land continues. The most
recent forum: the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

The 12-member council to date has recommended millions of dollars
worth of land acquisition, and did so again this year. But the
November elections resulted in a shift to Republican control in the
House and Senate, and opposition to buying land has
increased.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, has offered legislation that
would prevent the state from buying land unless it sold the same
amount. His bill has 16 co-authors, including seven freshman
Republicans.

It’s unlikely the bill will move forward, said Rep. Denny McNamara,
R-Hastings, who chairs the Environment, Energy and Natural
Resources Finance and Policy Committee.

“I don’t want and don’t support Rep. Drazkowski’s idea of no net
gain – that’s the wrong direction,” he said. “We need to capitalize
on (acquisition) opportunities in a responsible way.”

Public land opponents say they oppose buying more because the state
can’t effectively manage the land it already owns. They also worry
about the long-term costs of management, and about the payments in
lieu of taxes (PILT) to local governments.

McNamara has proposed a method for dealing with those concerns –
setting up an account that would take in $5.6 million per year of
Outdoor Heritage funds that could be used to pay for long-term
maintenance.

Setting aside that money could alleviate legislators’ concerns
about buying more land, he said.

But not everyone agrees. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who
chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said
he has concerns about McNamara’s proposal and may not support the
concept.

He doubts it would change the minds of lawmakers who are strong in
their opposition to public land anyway. In addition, that type of
sentiment isn’t as strong in the Senate as it is in the House,
Ingebrigtsen said.

He noted there’s no Senate companion to Drazkowski’s bill.

“Something like that would hinder the conservation opportunities
that are part of the constitutional amendment,” he said.

If lawmakers who are opposed to more public land “look at the
numbers, they will see that really, the amount of (wildlife
management areas) in the state – in their respective counties –
isn’t that great.”

McNamara has said he may not be able to get legislators to agree
with more acquisition without a way to fund the long-term
management of it. Still, council members’ reactions to his proposal
vary widely.

“I just think it’s a solution looking for a problem,” Jim Cox
said.

Other council members wondered whether it would be constitutional.
Said David Hartwell, the new L-SOHC chair: “I don’t have a
fundamental problem with when you’re buying land setting aside
money to do long-term stewardship or restoration of the property. I
think it’s prudent to do that.”

He noted that when the council has funded easements, it has
included some money for the easement itself, and some money for
stewardship and enforcement of the easement. Hartwell has more
concerns about the money being used for other purposes.

“If the money is held in a fund by the state there is always the
risk that it gets used for something else,” he said. “My suggestion
is that money sits with a community foundation” that would disperse
the money for its intended purpose.

Don McMillan, president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance,
also has concerns about creating a new account – “once you start
down that road, where do you stop?”

Joe Pavelko, Pheasants Forever director of conservation in
Minnesota, said PF doesn’t have a position on McNamara’s proposal.
He’s more concerned about the process the L-SOHC uses to select
projects.

At last Friday’s meeting, council members also discussed the
possibility of a one-year moratorium on land acquisition. Some
supported the concept, while others said it would send the wrong
message.

Categories: Hunting News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *