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State, county lock in easements

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State, county lock in easements
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

As timber companies sell off large tracts of timberland to private developers, public foresters may find gates across normally open forest trails.

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To prevent that, Beltrami County and the state of Minnesota are ready to begin locking up those easements for permanent public use.

The state plans to do that this summer in Beltrami County, Jerry Bourbonnais, Department of Natural Resources forestry road easement specialist, told the County Board last week.

He invited the county to do the same with its easements, joining the DNR in a parallel process.

"Through the parallel process with the DNR, you can identify sites," Bourbonnais said. "You will want to determine the public use of trails over time."

Through a prescriptive easement process, forest trails are formally recorded in public ownership, thus preventing private landowners from gating the trail shut. Often, the trails reach deeper public forests for hunting or harvesting, and the easement is the only access.

"There is a public hearing process," Bourbonnais said. "You must show there is some benefit to it to maintain a public access to public lands."

"It still is a taking with no compensation," said Commissioner Joe Vene. "I may be naively simplistic or not, but we should be able to ask to cross that land rather than provide a prescriptive easement."

True, said Bourbonnais, but legally recording the trail as public will prevent any future landowner from blocking access.

While commissioners unanimously approved Commissioner Jim Lucachick's resolution to "begin the process of working with the DNR on prescriptive easements," County Administrator Tony Murphy said final approval should be held off until an inventory of applicable trails can be determined.

Then commissioners will know how much of a workload they'd be scheduling to County Recorder Charlene Sturk and Natural Resource Management Director Greg Snyder.

The state is doing a few counties at a time and Beltrami County will be done this summer, Bourbonnais said. By recording the DNR's and county's prescriptive easements, both can avoid costly and time-consuming litigation to maintain their rights in the roads system they have built and maintained over many years.

^There has been little opposition over the DNR asserting its prescriptive easements, he said.

"Continued management of public lands for a wide variety of forest products will benefit local economies by creating jobs and delivering vital forest products to local and worldwide markets," according to DNR information.

"While the DNR is not a public road authority, these roads to access their lands and their access will continue as it is today," it said.

The width of an easement will be determined by use, Bourbonnaise said. If the current width of the road, ditches and backslopes is 20 feet, then the easement will be 20 feet.

The DNR would like to hold a public hearing in June on its suggested prescriptive easements in Beltrami County, and would like the county to hold its public hearing then as well.

Y bswenson@bemidjipioneer.com

As timber companies sell off large tracts of timberland to private developers, public foresters may find gates across normally open forest trails.

To prevent that, Beltrami County and the state of Minnesota are ready to begin locking up those easements for permanent public use.

The state plans to do that this summer in Beltrami County, Jerry Bourbonnais, Department of Natural Resources forestry road easement specialist, told the County Board last week.

He invited the county to do the same with its easements, joining the DNR in a parallel process.

"Through the parallel process with the DNR, you can identify sites," Bourbonnais said. "You will want to determine the public use of trails over time."

Through a prescriptive easement process, forest trails are formally recorded in public ownership, thus preventing private landowners from gating the trail shut. Often, the trails reach deeper public forests for hunting or harvesting, and the easement is the only access.

"There is a public hearing process," Bourbonnais said. "You must show there is some benefit to it to maintain a public access to public lands."

"It still is a taking with no compensation," said Commissioner Joe Vene. "I may be naively simplistic or not, but we should be able to ask to cross that land rather than provide a prescriptive easement."

True, said Bourbonnais, but legally recording the trail as public will prevent any future landowner from blocking access.

While commissioners unanimously approved Commissioner Jim Lucachick's resolution to "begin the process of working with the DNR on prescriptive easements," County Administrator Tony Murphy said final approval should be held off until an inventory of applicable trails can be determined.

Then commissioners will know how much of a workload they'd be scheduling to County Recorder Charlene Sturk and Natural Resource Management Director Greg Snyder.

The state is doing a few counties at a time and Beltrami County will be done this summer, Bourbonnais said. By recording the DNR's and county's prescriptive easements, both can avoid costly and time-consuming litigation to maintain their rights in the roads system they have built and maintained over many years.

^There has been little opposition over the DNR asserting its prescriptive easements, he said.

"Continued management of public lands for a wide variety of forest products will benefit local economies by creating jobs and delivering vital forest products to local and worldwide markets," according to DNR information.

"While the DNR is not a public road authority, these roads to access their lands and their access will continue as it is today," it said.

The width of an easement will be determined by use, Bourbonnaise said. If the current width of the road, ditches and backslopes is 20 feet, then the easement will be 20 feet.

The DNR would like to hold a public hearing in June on its suggested prescriptive easements in Beltrami County, and would like the county to hold its public hearing then as well.

bswenson@bemidjipioneer.com

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