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Land Exchange Board to hear Minnesota DNR request to purchase Lac qui Parle County land

A District Court judge had found that a decision by the Lac qui Parle County Board to deny the sale of an 80-acre parcel to the DNR was "arbitrary and capricious." The April 2021 ruling allowed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to ask the state Land Exchange Board for its approval to purchase the land. The request is going before the board on Dec. 1.

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A hunting dog retrieves a pheasant during a hunt in this undated West Central Tribune file photo. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has brought a request to purchase 80 acres of land in Lac qui Parle County for conservation. It adjoins an existing Wildlife Management Area and will improve habitat and recreational opportunities, according to the DNR. West Central Tribune file photo

ST. PAUL — The Land Exchange Board will hear a request by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to acquire for conservation the 80-acre parcel that was denied by the Lac qui Parle County Board of Commissioners.

The Land Exchange Board will consider the DNR’s request at its regularly scheduled meeting at 10 a.m. Dec. 1.

DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen had told the West Central Tribune during a visit to Willmar in October that the department had planned to bring its request to the Land Exchange Board while also continuing to work on building relationships with county officials.

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Sarah Strommen, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commissioner Photo courtesy of the DNR

The Lac qui Parle County Board of Commissioners had, in February 2019, denied the DNR’s request to purchase 80 acres of what was described as marginal cropland from Phillip Sonstegard of Jo’s Family Farms LLC. The landowner challenged the denial in court. District Judge Thomas Van Hon ruled in April 2021 that the County Board’s denial was “arbitrary and capricious” and its stated reasons were invalid. The court stated that the DNR and landowner could bring the matter to the Land Exchange Board in order to pursue the acquisition.

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The DNR is seeking to acquire the land and expand the Baxter Wildlife Management Area, which it borders in Baxter Township.

Sonstegard purchased the land in 2011 when it was enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. According to the request before the Land Exchange Board, he subsequently attempted to farm the property and encountered challenges ranging from areas with standing water during wet years and soybean yields significantly below the county average.

The DNR stated its interest in acquiring the land is to protect existing wetlands on the site and provide perennial cover to benefit grassland nesting birds and pollinators. The property’s proximity to the Baxter Wildlife Management Area helps develop a larger habitat complex to benefit wildlife. The department also cites water quality benefits and additional recreational opportunities the acquisition can provide.

The Payments In Lieu of Taxes that will be made annually to the county will be greater than the property taxes currently provided by the land, according to the request to the Land Exchange Board.

Allowing the acquisition to move forward with a willing seller also protects the landowner’s rights as a property owner, the DNR stated in its request.

The DNR also cited the importance of public lands in its request to the Land Exchange Board.

“According to a recent survey, Minnesota hunters rely on and want more public lands. The survey showed that Lac qui Parle County is ‘the most popular county destination in the state for pheasant and waterfowl hunters relying on those public lands. And, it is second only to Kandiyohi County with deer hunters,’” stated the DNR.

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The Land Exchange Board is comprised of Gov. Tim Walz, State Auditor Julie Blaha and Attorney General Keith Ellingson.

The link to view the Dec. 1 meeting will be available on the Land Exchange Board webpage: www.dnr.state.mn.us/lands_minerals/landexchange/board.html

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