The LCCMR’s most recent meeting led once to ask: Where, oh where, have the committee members gone?
Sure, we are right on top of election day which may have accounted for the absence of senators and state representatives, but a handful of citizen members were also MIA. After all, committee members determine the LCCMR’s calendar and meeting schedule, so what happened? In fact, the meeting room boasted just as many environmental professionals who were there to present to the committee as it did actual members.
Unfortunately, this kind of lack of committee member attendance means that nearly half of the committee did not hear the details concerning land conservation issues and it could mean further stalling of forward momentum in defining the land RFP language and, even more importantly, could lead to a lack of in-depth understanding of land conservation needs and issues.
Presenting Land Issues
The presentations themselves were informative and interesting, delivering a wide array of information that covered nearly every inch of land in the state. Luke Skinner (DNR) and David Ragsdale (U of MN) kicked things off with a presentation discussing the bio-control of invasive species – a hot topic for recreationalists, lakeshore residents and biologists alike. While most think about invasive species as a localized issue, such as zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil which plague the state’s lakes and rivers or the spread of buckthorn, invasive species is a global issue that plagues every eco-system worldwide.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Rep. Kathy Tingelstad asked Skinner about the success the DNR has had in addressing invasive species, and while Skinner admitted that not all efforts at controlling evasive species have been “successful” (how does the DNR get individual gardeners to quit planting buckthorn as a landscape plant?), he stressed that the problem of invasive species is not a just an issue for the DNR or Department of Agriculture to address, but an issue the entire state must address.
And now that climate change is an ongoing subject for the committee, and surfaces as a query as to its impact after nearly every presentation the committee has heard this year, it should be more and more apparent that climate change effects every area of natural resources: water, land, agriculture and native species. That climate change needs to be addressed makes the LCCMR’s funding of preservation and conservation projects ever more important, because the continued loss and damage done to the environment, either through consumption, development or climate change impacts (such as droughts), means that the environment needs some serious attention – now. This is the LCCMR’s opportunity to take the lead as a state-sanctioned committee that commits dollars to environmental issues – even while Congress and the executive branch drag their feet.
The Complexities of Land Stewardship
More than one presentation focused on forest conservation and touched on such topics as fire (one of the uppermost priorities that the DNR constantly has to address — something that seemed to surprise many in the room as it would seem that that responsibility would reside outside the DNR, or least not be such a high-priority issue for the agency) and the struggle between public and private forest and prairie stewardship.
This struggle between preserving lands for recreational or conservation and prohibiting development on such land is an ongoing issue. Private companies that own land (many who do not even reside in the state) have in recent years begun selling off lots of land. This can lead to development of previously untouched land or create problems for agencies like the DNR when private owners decide to prohibit access to the land, which may have contained state-sanctioned hiking trails, for example. Adding to the problem is that in some cases, agencies such as the DNR and other land stewardship programs find themselves in the awkward position of asking for public dollars to retain private land. For example, a lumber corporation may own acreage in northern Minnesota and that corporation may have granted a land conservation agency rights to trails and access to the land. In order to maintain this conservation relationship between the agency and the private landowner (corporate or otherwise), the agencies find themselves in the awkward position of requesting public funds to maintain private lands. As you can imagine, most citizens get a little jittery when asked to pony up money to allow a corporation to retain ownership of land – particularly if that corporation is not even a Minnesota-based business.
Rep. Jean Wagenius knows these kind of conflicts all too well – she made it very apparent that she has heard from northern elected representatives that stewardship poses a large problem for them in the sense that any land marked for conservation can contribute to a loss of the tax base or to the lack of economic development by prohibiting use of the land, either from such businesses as the timber industry or residential development.
Certainly, land stewardship is a costly venture requiring substantial funding to preserve state land, and as Deputy Commissioner Mark Holsten pointed out: “We have more opportunities [to conserve land] than we have revenue streams.” Land conservation is certainly a necessary step in preserving the state’s natural resources. Hopefully, if the LCCMR decides to request funding for land purchase for preservation, they will also come up with suggestions as to Rep. Wagenius can put her northern peers at ease.
The next LLCMR meeting is scheduled for Nov. 28.