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Outdoors projects receive Minnesota Senate OK

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators approved spending $158 million Tuesday, with little discussion, for outdoors projects.

The votes came on a $112 million plan that mostly buys land to preserve prairies, forests, wetlands and wildlife habitat and a $46 million bill that focuses on a variety of projects, ranging from natural resources education to fighting aquatic invasive species.

The most controversial part of the bills came in the larger one, sponsored by Sen. Tom Saxhaug, D-Grand Rapids. The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council recommended spending the money, generated by a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008, including buying land for the White Earth Nation.

The $2.2 million sale of land, once tribal territory, includes forests and wild rice beds. It is owned by Potlatch Corp., which wants to sell it. The Senate-passed bill would allow the tribe to run it so it would remain open for public hunting, trapping and fishing.

A House committee amended the Lessard-Sams recommendation to have the state Department of Natural Resources buy and run the land.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, failed to get senators to change the bill to match the House plan. He said that he would rather the state own the land because it would be subject to unpredictable federal rules if White Earth owned it.

While he lost his effort to amend the bill, Ingebrigtsen supported the overall product when it passed 48-16.

Key spending provided in the legislation includes:

  • $31 million to preserve prairies, mostly to buy land around the state, including $6.7 million to expand buffers around state water.
  • $20.3 million to restore, protect and buy forest land.
  • $31 million to buy and restore wetlands.
  • $29.1 million to improve and buy wildlife habitat areas.

The House version of the bill faces further committee hearings before receiving a full House vote.

The other legislation would spend more than $46 million, as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. It uses money from Minnesota State Lottery proceeds.

Highlights of that bill, which passed 50-10, include:

  • $8.3 million for 18 natural resource data and information projects.
  • $8.3 million for 25 water resources projects.
  • $2.6 million for 11 environmental education projects.
  • $5.9 million for seven aquatic and land invasive species projects.
  • $3.9 million for eight air quality, climate change and renewable energy projects.
  • $4.5 million for nine projects related to methods to protect, restore and enhance land, water and habitat.
  • $12.6 million for land acquisition, habitat and recreation projects.

The bill awaits a full House vote.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.