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DNR to focus on ‘shared landscape’ approach in Minnesota River Valley

Sam Crary and his father, Jerry, fish by canoe on the Minnesota River in this undated photo. Tom Landwehr, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, says the DNR is looking for ways to accommodate multiple uses in the Minnesota River Valley. Tribune photo

SAINT PAUL — Challenges ranging from aquatic invasive species to disappearing grasslands have the attention of the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources this year, as well as finding a way to share the landscape of the Minnesota River Valley among often competing, recreational users.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr announced that the department will be looking at how to create a new type of recreation and conservation area in the Minnesota River Valley this year that can accommodate multiple uses.

He made the announcement while outlining what he sees as the major challenges facing the state in 2013 at the onset of the annual DNR roundtable held Friday and Saturday in St. Paul. The event brings together many outdoor interests and the DNR to look at hunting, fishing, and natural resource issues.

No surprises in what the commissioner sees as the major challenges. He cited aquatic invasive species, water quality and quantity issues, disappearing grasslands, hunter and angler retention, antler point restrictions, dealing with predation by cormorants, finding funding to maintain the walk-in-access program, and public land acquisition as among the top challenges.

He used the opening address to make known the importance he places on finding ways to accommodate multiple uses in the river valley. He intends to make the Minnesota River Valley from New Ulm to Granite Falls as the area to develop a “blueprint” for allowing multiple uses on conservation lands.

He suggested it could become a model for a statewide approach to dealing with a coming reality. Our state population is projected to rise by 1 million in the next 20 years, meaning more people are going to be using the same amount of land as their recreational resource, he noted.

He described the Minnesota River Valley as a “tremendous resource” for hunting and fishing, but noted that it is also heavily desired by local people for uses including horseback, hiking and motorized trail uses.

“So we’re looking at how we can create a new type of recreation and conservation area that A, has an emphasis on conservation, but B, allows for compatible recreation,” said Landwehr.

Major changes will likely require legislative support on the state and federal levels. Current law prohibits trails on wildlife management areas. Many public lands are acquired and maintained through funds raised directly from hunters and anglers through license fees and taxes on the goods they purchase.

Landwehr said the DNR will work with all interested partners to identify what opportunities are available. He also cited the work by the Green Corridor Initiative that has been finding ways to promote a shared landscape in the river valley. It worked with the DNR to develop the Whispering Ridge Aquatic Management Area along the Minnesota River between Redwood and Renville counties. Horseback riding trails are maintained in the area, but the trails are closed during the deer firearm season and the spring turkey hunt. The area also provides shoreline fishing and canoe access to the river.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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