Public lands: How much?

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2010 - 5:26 AM

Minnesota's policy of acquiring lands has come under fire, and the issue is likely to remain a hot topic of debate.

hide

The state’s WMAs are heavily used each fall by hunters.

Minnesota's wildlife management area system -- nearly 1,400 public areas totaling 1.3 million acres of habitat around the state -- is treasured by state hunters.

Each fall, the public lands are tramped by thousands of hunters. The lands also provide prime habitat for non-game wildlife, such as songbirds and swans.

Those public prairies, wetlands and forests also are open for trappers, wildlife watchers, photographers and others who seek wild places. And the lands also prevent erosion and improve water quality.

Since the system started in 1951 under the "Save the Wetlands'' program, it has been slowly growing as the state and conservation groups add additional parcels. A citizens committee comprised of conservation group members recommended in 2002 that the state acquire 700,000 additional acres over 50 years -- including 200,000 in the first 10 years -- to meet rising demands for wildlife and recreation by a growing population.

The goal isn't being met. During the past 10 years, the Department of Natural Resources has acquired 51,000 acres of WMA lands, either through purchase from willing sellers or donations, at a cost of $62 million.

Concerns clashing

But increasingly, some legislators, county officials and farm groups are questioning the state's policy of acquiring lands. Their concerns clash head-on with hunting and other conservation groups, who say land acquisition should remain a key component of wildlife habitat preservation.

Among those expressing concern recently over land acquisitions:

• Chris Radatz, public policy director for the Minnesota Farm Bureau, said his members are concerned Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars from the Legacy Amendment will "lead to a huge land grab,'' and he urged officials to consider other options.

• At least 16 counties in the state, mostly in the north, have passed resolutions saying they want "no net gain'' of public land. Land acquisition is a "big concern'' for counties, said Annalee Garletz, policy analyst for the Association of Minnesota Counties. One worry, she said, is payment in lieu of taxes (PILT), which the state pays annually to compensate counties for taking land off the tax rolls.

• The Grant County Board recently rejected a request by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to buy 370 acres for a federal waterfowl production area, a program that provides wildlife lands for public hunting and other uses, similar to the state's wildlife management areas. The county rejected the request, even though the Fish and Wildlife Service, like the state, compensates counties for removing land from tax rolls. "It's prime wildlife habitat,'' said Don Kleven of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Having a county reject an acquisition "is infrequent but not unusual,'' he said. "Some counties always turn us down.'' The agency will appeal to a state board that usually OKs the purchases.

• Legislators have increasingly questioned the acquisition of lands with Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars and by the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which recommends spending of lottery dollars. Legislators have asked the Legislative Auditor to look at DNR landholdings and easements, and a report is expected soon. Also at issue for the Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars from the Legacy Amendment is the definition of "protect, enhance and restore.''

"We didn't use the word 'buy,' we used 'protect,' " said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis. "Protect includes prevent. We need fish barriers [for example] to keep Asian carp from coming up the Mississippi River. That's prevention. Do I support buying public lands? Absolutely. We should be buying the best of the best."

But she said money also is needed to restore and manage habitat on those and existing public lands. "When we get a piece of land, it comes with management costs and PILT payment costs," she said.

The state paid about $5 million in 2009 for PILT payments for wildlife management areas, part of $22 million in PILT payments for state lands, including tax-forfeited lands. That money comes from the state's general fund.

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, is another legislator who has raised concerns about land acquisition. He sits on the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which recommends how Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars are spent. The council recently recommended protecting 16,000 acres, nearly 10,000 through acquisition, for fiscal years 2011-13. Acquisition would total about $23 million of the $59 million to be spent.

"I'm not anti-acquisition," Hansen said. "But the acquisition has to be prioritized and targeted to the best, most-needed places. We need to take care of the many properties we already own."

At a hearing Monday, some legislators questioned a proposal by the LCCMR to spend $6.7 million to acquire wildlife lands.

"We should look less at acquisition and more at management and investment in existing holdings and easements we have," said Rep. Ron Shimanski, R-Silver Lake. Private landowners sometimes have to compete with the DNR or conservation groups to buy land, he said.

The state's legacy

But conservation groups, legislators and others say land acquisition is a vital part of wildlife habitat protection. They say that with the state population expected to grow, demand for public lands will increase while land costs rise. A citizen budget oversight committee recommended last year that the Legislature increase WMA funding.

Unlike some temporary easements, it permanently protects grasslands, wetlands and forests. And while easements acquired on private lands have no public access, acquired lands are open to the public.

"The wildlife management area system is a key component of our outdoor recreation system," said Mike Kilgore, a hunter, University of Minnesota professor and chair of the Lessard-Sams Council.

The main funding for those lands has been a surcharge on small game hunting licenses, hunting license fees, Critical Habitat license plates, lottery proceeds and bonding. John Edmund, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism, told legislators that travel to parks, trails and other recreational lands is a big part of the state's $11 billion travel industry, producing 245,000 jobs.

Said Garry Leaf, executive director of Sportsmen for Change, "A lot of hunters can't afford their own private hunting land.''

Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said public lands attract hunters and others who bring revenue to counties. "We have the right to hunt and fish in Minnesota, but if you don't have access, what good is it?" he said. "St. Paul and the Legislature are thinking less about our hunting and fishing heritage and are forgetting about what makes life special in Minnesota.''

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Pawlenty’s budget ax falls on DNR, too

    Tuesday February 16, 2010

    The DNR would take at least a $3 million hit in 2010-2011 if the budget released by Gov. Tim Pawlenty is approved by the Legislature -- and the amount could...

  • Deer hunters seek probe of Kahn

    Tuesday February 16, 2010

    Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, has asked Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher to investigate whether Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, engaged in a "breach of ethics."

  • Hunters took fewer deer in 2009

    Tuesday February 16, 2010

    The 12.5 percent drop in the number of deer taken by Minnesota hunters was part of the DNR's herd management plan.

  • Mexican gray wolf on loose in Forest Lake

    Tuesday February 16, 2010

    A Forest Lake science center hopes that the beckoning howls of 41 wolves and a waiting meal of venison will entice a missing Mexican gray wolf back to the cage...

  • Deer

  • Wetlands

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Oakland - J. Lester 7:07 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
NY Islanders 6:00 PM
Boston
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Ottawa 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Carolina 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Tampa Bay 7:30 PM
Dallas
Colorado 8:00 PM
Calgary
Los Angeles 9:30 PM
San Jose
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close