Now The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever and other environment, conservation, wildlife, fishing and hunting groups are weighing in, protesting that the House bill is unworkable.
Here's a copy of the letter The Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and others sent to House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher on Monday:
Dear Speaker Anderson Kelliher:
The undersigned groups represent a number of nongovernmental conservation organizations working to protect Minnesota's natural resources. We have been very active in supporting the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment, and continue to work very closely in the implementation of programs and projects proposed for funding via the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
We appreciate the thoughtfulness the House has given issues related to the appropriation of this Fund. The number and speed of decisions required have made this an unusual process. Even so, in this inaugural year of constitutional funding, progress has been very good, legislative support to date has been appreciated, and we believe the framework is in place for great success.
We do, however, have several concerns with some of the language related to the Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF) in the current engrossment of House File 1231. House File 1231 as it stands contains both appropriation and policy language. The latter is broad-reaching in scope and highly prescriptive in practice. As a result, it will be difficult to efficiently and effectively deliver the natural resource conservation envisioned by Minnesotans with their November 4th vote. We are also aware that the DNR and BWSR have expressed similar concerns to ours.
We do believe there are good concepts in HF1231. It is critically important that there be standards governing how Outdoor Heritage Funds are spent; and it is equally important the Minnesotans know how and where these funds are spent. We believe there needs to be more dialogue to develop the appropriate policy language for addressing these issues.
Attached iis a list of some of our most serious concerns with HF1231. As you can see, they span the gamut from high-level oversight issues to those of constitutionality to those of technical inaccuracies. Due to the range and seriousness of many of the issues and the detail which needs to be addressed, we believe it would be more appropriate to take additional time before committing many of these issues to statute. We believe the Outdoor Heritage Council could be an appropriate venue to deliberate on these issues and provide recommendations to the Legislature. Further, we believe such recommendations need to be subsequently vetted through the normal policy committee process.
We respectfully request to meet with you to discuss these concerns and discuss how we can provide any guidance you might request in resolving these problems. We will contact your office to request a meeting in the next few days. We know this is an incredibly busy time but these are important issues for the future of our natural resources. Your assistance would be most appreciated.
The Nature Conservancy Minnesota Deer Hunters Association Minnesota Land Trust
Pheasants Forever Trust for Public Land The Conservation Fund
Problem Areas in House File 1231 (Second Engrossment) (https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H1231.2.html&session=ls86 )
The citations below have been identified as implementation problems by one or more conservation partners, however not all partners have equal issue with individual sections.
Line 4.10 changes ownership of land from federal to state with respect to the Northern Tall Grass Prairie project recommendation: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been a long-standing partner in prairie conservation. Original intent of this recommendation was to allow federal ownership to reduce state Payment In Lieu of Tax (PILT) obligations. This change will result in U.S.F. declining to participate, thus incurring PILT and losing federal matching dollars.
Line 8.1 creates the Outdoor Heritage grant program under the DNR, a change from the recommendation to use the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as the grantor. This will be more costly to the fund, and is a change made even over the objections of DNR. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has a regional office at Fort Snelling.
Lines 14.33&81.18 would require private landowners selling land to DNR to make public their legal and other fees for the transaction: While public accountability is important, this is private information and should not be required to be made public. This will discourage landowners from conveying land to the state.
Line 15.16 precludes use of restoration and enhancement funds on conservation lands owned by a non-governmental conservation organization unless also subject to a conservation easement. Nongovernmental partners are critical to achieving state conservation goals and providing for restoration and enhancement on those lands should be encouraged.
Line 72.16 and line 73.12 require funding for public outreach and for restoration audits. This may be counter to the constitutional dedication for "protect, enhance, restore". Further, combined administrative expenses are accumulating rapidly and may exceed statutory 1% cap.
Line79.23 requires that funding for an "entire project" be requested and granted. This suggests that proposers would need to request funds for development, restoration, ongoing maintenance, and future additions all at the same time. Requiring a large cash set-aside now, for actions that aren't required for many years, may mean that needed funds for urgent protection projects may not be available, and critical lands may be lost.
Line 80.14 and the following section appear to preclude spending on "non-native" species, even if these are now well-established and desired by the public (e.g., pheasants, brown trout, and rainbow trout). This will preclude projects that hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans favor.
Line 80.30 requires an ecological restoration plan on all acquired lands. Many acquired lands will be intact and have no restoration required, so a plan that meets the subsequent conditions is unwarranted. This could also pose issues with working forest conservation easements where owner retains right to manage for timber production, not some ecological climax stage.
Line 81.12 eliminates wetland replacement and mitigation credits from any land acquired or lands on which conservation easements are acquired. This eliminates a potential pool of wetland mitigation in areas of the state, such as the north, where such mitigation is needed, and does so without compensating the owner.
Line 83.9 requires the commissioner of DNR to approve two land appraisals in certain cases. Currently, the commissioner only "approves" (i.e., certifies) one appraisal for a specific project, no matter how many appraisals are done. Only one can be "correct", and certifying two different values is fundamentally inaccurate. This activity is governed already by statute (84.0272 and 84.0274).
Line 91.22 and following section establishing a long-term easement and land management account contains multiple issues and problems, including:
- Creating a fund that is intended to jointly address the fundamentally different funding needs for easement monitoring and acquired land management is problematic.
- Easement monitoring fund assessments are linked to the value of the land. This not the approach taken by most conservation organizations and is also problematic. It may well result in inflated contributions to the fund, making many projects unnecessarily expensive and tying up scarce capital in unneeded reserve funds.
- The current language lacks guidance on the expenditures of the funds. As a result, all of the fund could be taken at any time for essentially unrelated purposes. This is contrary to the intention – to secure needed funding for future monitoring and management – and will render the funds unavailable for the intended purpose.
Lines 92.11 and 92.18 require that the "owner" of lands acquired with state funds for natural resource purposes shall contribute 5% of the appraised value to the management account. The term "owner" is ambiguous as to who has the obligation to make this payment. Is it the permanent owner of the conservation land, such as the DNR? Is it the original landowner who sells the land to the DNR? Or if a nonprofit is involved, is it the nonprofit who may be the owner of the land for a period of time? The language is also unclear as to where the 5% is supposed to come from, i.e., state or private funds.
Line 94.9 sets up a one-time payment for PILT on newly acquired lands but specifies no source of funds; this will be a huge issue for implementation.
Line 95.25 sets out new definitions for enhance, restore and protect: These definitions are far reaching and need additional review. For example, the definition of "protect" does not include its common usage in the conservation field where "protect" means acquisition by a public or private conservation entity or preservation via conservation easement.
Lines 100.3 makes appropriations from the Outdoor Heritage Fund that have not been recommended by the LOHC. While acknowledging the merit of addressing Emerald Ash Borer, the Council should have the opportunity to review and act on this allocation.