Details matter, and the blossoming in the last 10 years of a Minnesota habitat program called Conservation Partners Legacy Grants proves the point.
Included by the Legislature in May 2008 in the game and fish bill that created the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, CPL — the Conservation Partners Legacy Grants’ acronym — was designed to ensure that sportsmen’s clubs and other “little people” weren’t left out of fish and wildlife habitat funding made possible by passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008.
Success, as they say, has a thousand fathers (or, more gender neutrally, mothers and fathers), and that’s true for passage of the Legacy Amendment, and more specifically for establishment of the Lessard-Sams Council and the CPL.
But the point person for both at the Legislature in May 2008 was Garry Leaf, who today remains head of a group called Sportsmen for Change.
Leaf, among others, believed hunters and anglers wouldn’t sign off on the amendment idea without establishment of a citizen-dominated council to guide expenditures from the Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF), one of four pots of money established by the Legacy Amendment. (The others are the Clean Water Fund; Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund; and Parks and Trails Fund.)
Minnesota hunters and anglers were nervous about the amendment because they believed the Legislature had stiffed them following passage in 1988 of the constitutional amendment that launched the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as a means to spend lottery money.
After that amendment passed, the Legislature pulled a switcheroo and changed the formula by which money from the fund was divvied up, reducing the amount going to the “environment and natural resources.”
“That’s why many hunters and anglers said they wouldn’t vote for the 2008 Legacy Amendment unless citizens had a say in how the money was spent,” Leaf said. “They didn’t trust the Legislature.”
Thus, in the waning days of its 2008 session, the Legislature — not entirely enthusiastically — under pressure from hunters and anglers, included formation of the Lessard-Sams Council and the CPL in that year’s omnibus game and fish bill provided voters approved the Legacy Amendment the following November — which they did.
The amendment raised about $300 million in its initial years by fractionally increasing the state sales tax. A third of that amount was, and is, dedicated to the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
In the years since, the Lessard-Sams Council has served its intended purpose with a fairly high profile. But less is known about the CPL, whose initial allocation from the Outdoor Heritage Fund was $4 million, and today hovers around $9 million — or approximately one-tenth of the Outdoor Heritage Fund’s annual allotment for game, fish and wildlife habitat.
Here’s how CPL works:
• Jessica Lee is the CPL program coordinator. She works for the Department of Natural Resources, and has a master’s degree in environmental management and extensive professional experience in grant management. She and a colleague, Kathy Varble, a grant specialist, each year present a CPL funding proposal to the Lessard-Sams Council.
• Lee doesn’t request Outdoor Heritage Fund money for specific habitat projects. Instead, she asks for a lump sum for CPL, based in part on the number of applications she has received in recent years.
• Each year in August, online CPL applications for prairie, wetland and forest habitat projects open for six weeks, after which various DNR and other specialists review and score the requests. Projects with the highest scores are funded. The money is spread around the state as much as possible, with some funds earmarked for the metro.
• About 120 applications have been received for CPL money in recent years, with about two-thirds receiving funding. The most that can be requested is $400,000; the minimum is $5,000. Applicants must pledge 10 percent of the project total, either with cash or in-kind work. Money is available for land or water habitat acquisition, enhancement and/or restoration. In the current funding cycle, the biggest award, $400,000, went to the Martin County Conservation Club to buy 80 acres to add to the Center Creek Wildlife Management Area. The smallest grant, $11,287, went to Page Township for a restoration project in its community park.
• Each project must have a manager, time sheets must be kept and completion reports must be filed. Also, money isn’t dispensed until after work is done. “We pay within 30 days of receiving an invoice, so bills can be paid as the project is undertaken,” Lee said, adding that some money is withheld each year for qualifying “quickie” projects that arise outside the traditional application time frame.
“When we came up with the idea for CPL, we felt it was important that the habitat-project money created by the Legacy Act and the Outdoor Heritage Fund get spread around,” Leaf said. “Not everyone has the capability to take on big projects. CPL provides a means, and a motivation, to get smaller but still important work done.”
Lee does on-site follow-up inspections of most funded projects.
“I’m biased,” she said “But I think it’s a great program. There are a lot of excellent projects out there, and surveys of our applicants show people are happy with the program.”
More information about CPL is available at dnr.state.mn.us/grants/habitat/cpl/index.html.