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Minnesota Legislature

$137.5 million Outdoor Heritage Fund bill gets division OK

Mark Johnson, right, executive director of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, provides an overview of a bill sponsored by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn that would appropriate Outdoor Heritage Fund funding. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Forty-two high-priority conservation projects across the state are on track to be funded by the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division approved HF3128 Thursday and sent it to the House Legacy Finance Division.

Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville), the $137.5 million would be used to restore, enhance or protect 83,406 acres of wildlife habitat and 101 miles of shoreline statewide. Native prairies would be protected; wetlands restored; trout streams, shallow lakes and public wildlife land enhanced; forest fragmentation prevented and land acquired through fee and conservation easements.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • $41.8 million for prairie projects;
  • $15.95 million for forest projects; 
  • $14.73 million for wetlands projects; and
  • $64.67 million for other habitat projects and the conservation partners legacy grant program.

Among the specific projects included are:

  • $7.6 million to acquire land and restore natural habitat systems associated with the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers and their tributaries;
  • $1.96 million to enhance and restore shallow lakes and wetland habitat statewide; and
  • $1.72 million to restore and enhance habitat for trout in cold water rivers, lakes and streams.

The funding package was pulled together by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council – a dozen citizens and legislators chosen for their expertise and interest in conservation. These projects were vetted by the council through a competitive, public process, which received $324.6 million in funding requests.

Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) expressed concern about the amount of money being spent to buy land or easements, reducing the amount of land in private hands.

“It’s disappearing pretty fast in Minnesota,” he said. “Only the very, very wealthy are going to be able to buy land.”

Becker-Finn noted all of the land involves willing buyers and sellers.

House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division 2/13/20

“Nobody has a gun to their head,” she said.

Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley) said he’s seeing landowners move to North and South Dakota and put property in trusts.

“The people who are the makers are leaving the state,” he said. “We can’t grow more land in the state of Minnesota.”

An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) aims to make land acquired with tax dollars more accessible to disabled people.

The funds would flow to 25 organizations, about half of them state and local government entities. The funding package is expected to leverage another $8.95 million in federal, state and private conservation funding.

The Outdoor Heritage Fund was created when Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment in 2008, authorizing an increase in the state sales tax, 33 percent of which is used by the heritage fund to “restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife.”

The bill’s companion, SF3085, is sponsored by Sen. Andrew Lang (R-Olivia), and awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

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