Anderson: State shutdown's ripple effect

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 4, 2011 - 11:39 PM

Non-profit conservation groups could have crucial projects put on hold, especially if it's a lengthy stoppage.

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Non-profit conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited could have crucial projects put on hold if the state government shutdown is a lengthy stoppage.

Photo: Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

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Conservation of Minnesota's lands and waters would be slowed, if not stopped, by a state government shutdown.

Most affected would be projects underway on public lands statewide funded either partially or wholly by the Department of Natural Resources. Many, if not all, of these would be put on hold.

Some projects undertaken by non-profits such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever also could be stopped or postponed by a shutdown.

And especially affected, particularly by a lengthy shutdown, would be some of the approximately $35 million in land and water projects funded and overseen annually by the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), headquartered in St. Paul, with offices around the state.

Unlike the DNR, which works primarily on public land, BWSR's efforts are targeted to private land, with cooperation of landowners, and in partnership with counties, soil and water conservation districts and other governments and agencies, as well as private wildlife groups.

Like DNR employees, BWSR workers, headed by executive director John Jaschke, were busy closing up shop Thursday afternoon in anticipation of a state government shutdown.

"We haven't added up the hours that we've spent getting ready for a shutdown," Jaschke said. "When we do, it won't be insignificant."

Managed much differently than the DNR and other state agencies, BWSR is guided by a 20-member board of directors that includes leaders of the Pollution Control Agency, DNR, the Department of Agriculture and the University of Minnesota, as well as local government officials.

Citizen members also serve from throughout the state, appointed by the governor.

With 75 employees -- compared to the DNR's nearly 3,000 -- BWSR undertakes conservation in two primary ways: It uses Legacy Amendment and lottery dollars distributed by grants and through contracts for clean water, habitat development and other projects. And it secures easements on private property to restore wetlands, plant adjoining uplands in wildlife cover and do other similar work.

BWSR easement projects already underway could be affected by a shutdown, because the real estate work involved is often complex and time- consuming. Projects can't proceed until it's done, even if money has been allocated -- and BWSR's staff real estate specialists won't be working in a shutdown.

Additionally, BWSR projects underway that require periodic state inspections would be halted, because inspectors wouldn't be working.

The lack of a state budget also has delayed planning and implementation of BWSR's future conservation projects. Had a budget been passed by the time the Legislature adjourned its regular session in May, the competitive process BWSR uses to select project partners for the next biennium would have been well underway, moving the state that much closer to utilizing Legacy Amendment, lottery and other dollars the way they were intended.

Meanwhile, important DNR and BWSR conservation partners also would feel the effects of a shutdown.

Money flow to begin projects, or keep them going, is one issue. As important are the less visible impacts of a shutdown, such as the DNR Waters Division's decision to suspend permits during a shutdown that it had already issued to do conservation work on lakes and streams.

"That won't affect us too badly, because the spring came late this year and we've had so much rain and high water that some of our projects that needed permits haven't begun yet," Ducks Unlimited Minnesota conservation programs manager Jon Schneider of Alexandria said Thursday. "But we had planned to start some of these in July. If any shutdown goes on for a while, that will affect us."

Most engineering projects Ducks Unlimited undertook in recent years on shallow lakes that were funded by the state are finished, Schneider said. "But there are a couple of other grants for projects that would begin soon that would be affected if a shutdown is prolonged."

In the environment and natural resources portion of the state budget already agreed to by the House and Senate, Ducks Unlimited would receive more than $3 million for habitat work undertaken in behalf of the state. Those efforts will be delayed until a budget deal is done.

At Pheasants Forever, work on land acquisition with state funds (and with other funding partners, including local Pheasants Forever chapters) has been accelerated in recent months in anticipation of a possible shutdown, spokesman Bob St. Pierre said Thursday.

"We've anticipated this possibility, so we've been working hard to close any acquisitions that were pending," St. Pierre said. "Others we scheduled for later this summer."

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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