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Outdoor funds for easements

Published (3/4/2010)
By Sue Hegarty
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There is bipartisan support for using outdoor heritage funds to pay private landowners for public access easements. The funds are derived from a dedicated tax that is distributed based on Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council recommendations.

HF1146, sponsored by Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar), would allow the Board of Water and Soil Resources to purchase easements so that the public could walk onto private land to hunt, trap, fish and engage in other outdoor recreation. The bill was laid over by the House Game, Fish and Forestry Division March 1 for possible inclusion in a division omnibus bill.

Easements would be paid from a $10 million appropriation in fiscal year 2011from the outdoor heritage fund. A walk-in access program, similar to neighboring states, would enable the state to leverage federal dollars, Hackbarth said.

Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake), division chairman, said private cornfields and wheat fields in some areas could enhance wildlife hunting opportunities, but he added, “I’m not saying we use Lessard money to pay for that.”

However, Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) said the bill meets the council’s goal to “restore, protect, and enhance Minnesota’s wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife.” He added, “A lot of us can’t necessarily afford our own little hunting spot.”

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), an appointed member of the council, was surprised there was no opposition to the bill. “I was waiting patiently for the conservation groups or the agencies to provide comment on this. I’m waiting for the righteous indignation for raiding the funds. This is the first bill getting a hearing that takes the outdoor heritage funds, and not a peep,” Hansen said.

A companion, SF2033, sponsored by Sen. Pat Pariseau (R-Farmington), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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