50-year conservation plan covers all bases, except cost

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 9, 2008 - 10:02 AM

The unprecedented report, the product of 18 months of expert effort, offers advice on all aspects of saving Minnesota's resources. Next, politicians will respond.

Supporters of a comprehensive statewide plan to help Minnesota protect and conserve its natural resources during the next 50 years said Tuesday they hope politicians of all persuasions will embrace the 330-page proposal.

But the conservation and preservation plan -- the first of its kind by any state -- tackles a wide range of problematic issues, including transportation, drainage, ethanol production, climate change, development and water usage.

Which means politics and money could be impediments to its implementation.

"I hope politics doesn't get in the way of people wanting to protect the state's resources,'' Deb Swackhamer, interim director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment and study leader, said at a Capitol news conference.

State Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, said, "It offers us a road map that isn't anyone's political agenda, but rather is a product of our best scientists and thinkers at the University of Minnesota and in the private sector."

Anderson is a member of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), comprising five state senators, five representatives and seven citizens. It oversees spending of about $23 million annually in lottery proceeds.

The plan, completed over 18 months by about 125 experts, primarily from the University of Minnesota, state agencies and two private firms, will be used to guide the LCCMR's funding allocations. But officials hope it also will be a blueprint for other state agencies.

"We're going to be using it as a framework for planning our biennial budget,'' said Laurie Martinson, Department of Natural Resources deputy commissioner.

The study cost $500,000, but Swackhamer said university staff did another $1 million in work without pay.

"We didn't do this for the money," Swackhamer said. "We did it because we believe in the state of Minnesota and we have a chance to do something different and better than we have done in the past. We strongly believe in this plan."

Added Swackhamer: "This offers us the opportunity to manage our environment, not in the stovepipe manner that's been done before, but in a comprehensive, integrated and unified way."

The plan makes more than 60 recommendations but doesn't assign costs. Swackhamer said a cost-benefit analysis is being done to guide policymakers.

"This plan ... points to the fact that there is a huge unmet need in this state, and we need to provide additional funding to protect our natural resources,'' said Ken Martin.

Martin is campaign director for Vote Yes Minnesota, a coalition of 200 environmental, conservation, outdoors and arts organizations pushing for passage of a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would dedicated a portion of the state sales tax to natural resources and the arts.

  • AMONG THE RECOMMENDATIONS

    •Acquire high-priority shore lands.

    •Protect private shore lands with incentives such as tax credits, and easements.

    •Accelerate protection and restoration of shallow lakes.

    •Restore wetlands to retain more water on the landscape, reducing soil erosion and runoff. Nearly 90 percent of sedimentation in Lake Pepin, for example, comes from the Minnesota River, officials said.

    •Develop a state land use, development and investment guide.

    •Transition from feedstock biofuels to perennial crops.

    •Protect large blocks of forest lands.

    •Minimize the effects of transportation on natural resources, and reduce per-capita vehicle miles of travel.

    •Develop mercury-reduction strategies.

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