LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Don’t dismiss opportunities to protect remaining resources
This is the Minnesota Chapter of the Wildlife Society’s response to State Rep. Steve Green’s letter “Tax dollars shouldn’t be used to outbid private buyers” published Jan. 10.
Rep. Green commended Meeker County Commissioners who opposed a seller’s proposal to sell land to the DNR. Rep. Green stated “in 2008 the DNR controlled 12 percent of all land in the state and by 2017 the percent of state land had increased to 17 percent”. As of 2017 the DNR administered 5.9 million acres or about 10 percent of the state. Other public lands include federal representing 6.5 percent and county-administered lands at 5 percent. Hence the percent of Minnesota’s public land is about 22 percent. Contrary to Rep. Green’s assertion that public lands have increased, the percentage has remained static the past 50 years. He’s correct stating that state-administered land has increased (6.7 percent in 1960 to 9.8 percent today). However, there’s been a corresponding decrease in county land during the past 50 years from 8.6 percent in 1960 to 5 percent today.
Although public land has remained relatively unchanged, Minnesota’s population has increased from 3.4 million in 1960 to 5.5 million today -- a 62 percent increase. Viewed from the perspective of public land availability, public land acres per person has declined from 3.4 in 1960 to 2.2 acres per person in 2014 -- a 35 percent decline.
Rep. Green mentioned protecting the local tax base. Actually, counties are reimbursed by state and federal programs to offset public ownership tax loss through Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). From 2008 to 2017 county reimbursements from state and federal governments were $281 million and $22 million respectively. During this period Meeker County received over $950,000. Payments were generally higher than taxes on similar private land. Moreover, 12 counties have passed resolutions supporting PILT.
Rep. Green suggests the “Legacy Amendment be put back on the ballot to protect Minnesotans from overbearing agencies.” Actually, a survey found “Minnesota voters highly concerned about the state’s loss of natural areas, loss of wildlife habitat…; they continue to strongly support the 2008 Constitutional Amendment that dedicates such funding.” (Fairbanks. 2016).
Public lands provide habitat for many wildlife species, including rare species. This habitat supports an outdoor recreation industry keeping people connected to the land and supportive of conservation. It is imperative that opportunities to protect remaining resources via a willing seller/willing buyer not be dismissed.
Bruce D. Anderson, Chisago City, Minn., is a board member of the Minnesota chapter of the Wildlife Society.