The Department of Natural Resources continues to buy land for wildlife areas, parks, trails and other natural areas even though it lacks adequate resources to manage and maintain its current land, according to a report released Friday by the legislative auditor.
The report notes that the DNR or citizens advisory groups have recommended significant acquisitions of land and conservation easements in recent years -- including a 64 percent increase in wildlife management areas, land open to public hunting.
"Despite these ambitious proposals, DNR does not appear to have adequate resources to manage and maintain its current land holdings,'' the report said. The agency also can't spell out how much money it would take to properly manage existing lands, the report said.
The report doesn't suggest that the DNR halt or slow acquisitions. DNR officials and conservation groups say it points out the need for money to manage existing lands.
"Acquisition should continue to benefit water, habitat and public access,'' said Mark Holsten, DNR commissioner. "This winter is a perfect example why. It's been a rough winter for wildlife.''
However, the report could give ammunition to legislators who question more acquisitions. And it could be used in the debate over how to distribute Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment dollars. But it could also bolster the case for land acquisition to protect natural resources because it defuses a longtime argument made by some counties that say they lose tax revenue when land is bought by the state and taken off the tax rolls.
The report said the opposite: In 90 percent or more of counties, payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) by the state on acquired lands exceeded the amount the counties would have received in property taxes.
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, who has questioned some state purchases, said he wouldn't call for a moratorium on acquisitions, based on the report. "The report says there's a higher need for management compared to acquisitions.''
But the report highlights several problems, said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis. "We need to make sure any land we buy is restored to the quality it should be, that we have a long-term management plan, and we have to have a way to pay for PILT.'' The state paid $22 million in such payments last year for natural resource land.
The report said the Legislature should require the DNR to explain how it will manage a parcel and pay for the management.
The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council has recommended spending $59 million of the Heritage Fund to protect, enhance and restore nearly 64,000 acres next year, including the acquisition of 9,700 acres and purchase of conservation easements on 6,700 acres.
Council recommendations still must be approved by the Legislature, but Hansen said he doubts the report will affect the recommendations this year.
The full report is at www.auditor.leg .state.mn.us/PED/2010/nrland.htm.