BLOOMINGTON — The commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources remains committed to resolving the public lands issue in Lac qui Parle County by reaching an agreement with the County Board of Commissioners.
Commissioner Sarah Strommen spoke to the dispute with Lac qui Parle County in her opening remarks Friday at the start of the 2020 Roundtable in Bloomington. The Roundtable brings together stakeholders in Minnesota’s natural resources for an annual conversation on conservation issues.
Strommen told the audience early in her opening remarks that she understands there is “frustration” by many over the decision by Lac qui Parle County to oppose the DNR’s acquisition of two properties for wildlife management areas. Last February, commissioners voted 4-1 in separate motions not to certify the purchase of two separate tracts: an 80-acre parcel in Baxter Township to be added to the Baxter Wildlife Management Area; and a 158-acre parcel in Mehurin Township to be added to the Gollnick Wildlife Management Area.
The DNR has the right to appeal the County Boards's decision to the Minnesota Land Exchange Board. At the February 2019 meeting, the commissioners acknowledged the board would likely approve the acquisitions.
Strommen noted that there was “frustration” as well by many in the state’s conservation community that the DNR has not taken the matter to the Land Exchange Board. She said Friday that she also realized the DNR might prevail in an appeal.
But, she said, “that doesn’t doesn’t fix the underlying reason the county rejected the acquisition.”
Strommen said she wants to continue conversations with the County Board to address their concerns and build a long-term relationship.
Strommen said public lands are too important to approach their acquisition through a “short-term lens,” as an appeal to the Land Exchange Board would represent. She wants to take the long-term view and build a platform and relationship for cooperation, she told Roundtable attendees.
She emphasized that the decision should not be interpreted as meaning the DNR under her leadership is unwilling to take bold actions for conservation. She pointed to action just weeks earlier by the DNR to impose a 30-day ban on the movement of game farm deer in response to the discovery of a deer infected with chronic wasting disease at a Douglas County farm.
Members of the Lac qui Parle County Board of Commissioners had voiced a number of concerns when rejecting the land acquisitions in February 2019. Commissioners said they felt there was too much public land in the county and that it adversely affected economic development and opportunities for young farmers to acquire land. According to information presented at the meeting, 94 percent of the county land base is private, while 4 percent is under state ownership and two percent federal.
The two land parcels were offered for purchase by willing landowners who had said they were not profitable for farming. Commissioner Ben Bothum had cast the lone vote against denying the land acquisition, stating he did not believe the county should interfere with the right of landowners to sell to a party of their own choosing.
Later during the Roundtable, the commissioner reported that Gov. Tim Walz’s bonding request to the Legislature includes what she termed a “very strong recommendation” for $196 million in funds for the DNR. Of the amount, she said $30 million is designated for public lands acquisitions and betterment. She said the funding represents a significant increase from the previous year.