Conservation coalition calls for state support

WILLMAR -- Take all of the farmland in Renville County, and you would still fall short by more than 100,000 of the number of acres of Conservation Reserve Program lands the state of Minnesota has lost since 2007 -- 655,000.State officials project...

Tom Brusven
Tom Brusven with the Chippewa County chapter of Pheasants Forever walks a grassland in this Tribune file photo. The state is seeking $9.5 million in bond funds to acquire and develop Wildlife Management Areas and Aquatic Management Areas. (FILE | TRIBUNE)

WILLMAR - Take all of the farmland in Renville County, and you would still fall short by more than 100,000 of the number of acres of Conservation Reserve Program lands the state of Minnesota has lost since 2007 - 655,000.
State officials project that another 200,000 acres of CRP land in the state will not be re-enrolled in the next five years.
It’s among the reasons that a broad coalition of 50 conservation groups, from Audubon Minnesota and Ducks Unlimited to Pheasants Forever, have signed on to supporting Minnesota’s application for the latest Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. It could make it possible to protect 100,000 acres of marginal farmland in perpetual easements.
It’s among two conservation initiatives whose fates could be determined as part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding proposal now before the Legislature.
State bond monies are being sought for an application to the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a partnership between state and/or tribal governments and the federal government to target high-priority conservation issues.
The state will need to invest an estimated $160 million over five years to leverage $634 million in federal dollars.
Jaschke said the proposal is for bond monies, the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund and the state’s Clean Water Fund to each provide roughly one-third of the state’s share over the five years.
The initiative would focus on wetland restoration, buffer strips and wellhead protection in a roughly 22 million-acre area of the state running from north of Moorhead to the state’s southeastern tip, according to John Jaschke, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.
In another conservation initiative, the Minnesota
Department of Natural Resources is seeking $12.5 million in bond funds for public lands acquisition, much of that in the agricultural areas of the state. It would protect an estimated 2,400 acres, according to Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Of the DNR’s total request, $9.5 million is being sought for land acquisition and developments for the state’s wildlife management areas and aquatic management areas, all in the state’s pheasant range. It would provide habitat for both game and nongame species while also increasing public hunting opportunities in the agricultural areas of the state, he said.
Jaschke and Landwehr are visiting with reporters this week to outline the governor’s bonding requests for conservation.
“We see this as a great opportunity to implement the pheasant plan, to do some water quality improvement projects, and provide some habitat for Minnesotans to get out and recreate,’’ said Landwehr in a telephone interview Tuesday.
When it comes to wildlife, it’s all about habitat, Landwehr said. The state’s hunters have seen the pheasant harvest drop from 655,400 roosters in 2007 to 152,800 last year. The drop mirrors the loss of Conservation Reserve Program lands during this time.
CRP is the largest private land conservation program in the United States. It pays landowners a yearly rental payment in exchange for removing environmentally sensitive land from ag production.

The bonding request for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program application is being heard by a Senate committee today.
Jaschke is confident that there will be landowner interest in the program. Each year there are many more applications to enroll lands in the Reinvest in Minnesota program than there are funds available.
Reinvest in Minnesota is intended to protect water quality, enhance habitat and fund restoration or acquisition of land.
There are 535,000 acres of farmland in Renville County, one of the state’s top agricultural producers. Yet the county is also one of the leaders in the state when it comes to enrolling lands in conservation.
Renville County had 26 to 28 applications for Reinvest in Minnesota buffers in 2014, and last year had 14 restoration applications. The county had funding available for only two of the buffers and one of the wetland projects, according to Karen Flom, manager of the Soil and Water Conservation District office in Renville County.
There is currently a waiting list of roughly 100 landowners interested in a new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program program, she said.

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