Outdoors projects set for $150M in funding for 2017

St. Paul — Though the 2016 legislative session is less than a month old – and there remains no word on when, or if, a special session will be held – work is already under way to determine which conservation projects will receive a share of more than $150 million expected to be available in 2017.

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council likely will make in excess of $100 million worth of recommendations from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources’ recommendations from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund likely will top $50 million (plus $8.4 million  unspent this year as a result of line-item vetoes).

In both cases, proposals far exceeded available resources. The LSOHC received 44 proposals totaling more than $317 million, while the LCCMR received 181 proposals totaling $142 million.

The Legislature has the final say over how the money is spent.

Outdoor Heritage Fund

LSOHC staff is sifting through the proposals it received and expects to make them available by the end of the month, according to Joe Pavelko, LSOHC assistant director.

The proposed amounts are higher than usual, he said, though there “is nothing out of the ordinary.” There are some new proposals, but also those to continue established programs such as funding acquisition of wildlife management areas and waterfowl production areas.

In some instances, proposals seek to keep up with what’s been something of an increase in interest among landowners in selling their land.

“We’ve definitely had more interest from sellers,” said Eran Sandquist, Minnesota state coordinator for Pheasants Forever. “Partly that’s due just to the value of land, but partly it’s due to our (outreach) efforts.”

Sandquist also said reduced commodity prices seem to be playing a role. DNR officials have noted the same thing.

“As you know, land acquisition is an ever-changing landscape.  Most important is the attitude of a given landowner about why he/she would consider selling land,” said Pat Rivers, deputy director of the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division. “Any given (Outdoor Heritage Fund) appropriation deals with just a handful of landowners. While I can’t say for sure that reduced commodity prices are driving more landowners to sell, I do know we have had a better run of landowners accepting our offers the last year or two than when corn was fetching $7 a bushel.”

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, along with the Ruffed Grouse Society and The Conservation Fund – in cooperation with St. Louis County – have a proposal to acquire 7,000 to 8,000 acres in that county. The land, which Potlatch currently owns, would be acquired, then transferred to and managed by St. Louis County.

Owners of industrial forest land, such as Potlatch, have been selling off their holdings, which has increased the amount of subdividing of land in the northern part of the state. The project would keep portions of those forest intact, and also provide public hunting opportunities, according to Craig Engwall, MDHA executive director.

“Even though our organizations focus around single species that we care about greatly, we have always been looking at habitats for game and nongame species alike,” he said. “You can’t just look at deer habitat. It’s more than that.”

Trust Fund

Lawmakers during the 2016 session removed 10 projects from the LCCMR’s list of recommendations and added seven, which Gov. Mark Dayton line-item vetoed. The LCCMR recently selected 88 proposals to hear more about. The LCCMR also is willing to consider the seven vetoed projects, and will reconsider funding the 10 proposals the Legislature removed.

Among the 88 new proposals:

• $1.4 million to the Board of Water and Soil Resources to “determine the water-quality effects of Minnesota’s 50-foot buffer initiative including gaps in continuity, such as tile drains, alternate practices, and width differences.”

• $398,000 to the University of Minnesota to study the costs and effects of a wolf pack that recently has become established at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, which is just north of the Twin Cities and farther south than other known packs.

“Our goals are to assess the potential costs (e.g., unwanted impacts on wildlife, pets, or livestock) and benefits (e.g., potential enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, educational opportunities) of this unassisted wolf recolonization,” according to the proposal.

• $348,151 to the University of Minnesota to use unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct non-invasive surveys of moose calves.

“The overall goals of the project are to develop (unmanned aerial vehicle) capabilities to 1) collect novel and important data on wildlife and ecosystems using methods than 2) reduce or eliminate negative impacts on wildlife by removing the need to drug and handle them,” according to the proposal. “Specifically, we will utilize our developed (unmanned aerial vehicle) capability to home in on VHF signals from adult collared moose and count the number of calves using video imagery and infrared technology.”

• $293,000 to Voyageurs National Park for a proposed project that would “assess wolf hunting behavior on beavers, moose, and deer in the Border Lakes region to understand how availability of beavers can influence wolf predation on moose and deer.”

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