Conservation groups rally around money for public landsMinnesota conservation groups on Thursday released reports which they say show the state benefits greatly from conservation and public lands. The reports also show that money aimed for those projects shouldn’t be diverted to solve the state’s budget mess, the conservationists say.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Minnesota conservation groups on Thursday released reports which they say show the state benefits greatly from conservation and public lands. The reports also show that money aimed for those projects shouldn’t be diverted to solve the state’s budget mess, the conservationists say.
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership, which represents more than 80 organizations, said the state gets good economic return on every dollar of investment; good ecological return through clean water and wildlife habitat; and good recreational return for the state’s 3 million hunters, anglers, bird watchers, hikers and other outdoor sports enthusiasts.
The issue is raised as Minnesota lawmakers begin their 2010 session trying to solve a $6.2 billion budget shortfall.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican leaders in the House and Senate have made no formal proposals to reduce conservation spending. But several conservation activists are worried that lawmakers, including many first-time lawmakers elected in November, will eye dedicated conservation money as a source of ready cash to fix the budget problem.
In November 2008, Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the state’s constitution, raising the state sales tax 3/8 of 1 percent and dedicating the money to conservation, clean water and arts projects.
“We need to remind the Legislature every year what this money is for and why voters favored it,” said Peggy Ladner, the Nature Conservancy’s state director for Minnesota. “And these new polls show that people still support the concept and very strongly don’t want that money raided.”
The groups on Thursday released a new study by University of Minnesota researchers that found the state earns a $1.70 to $4.40 return for every $1 spent on acquiring public lands, such as wildlife management — hunting — areas and natural areas.
“The university study also shows what we’ve been saying all along, that public lands aren’t just a great idea, they are a great return on the state’s dollar,” Ladner said.
The groups say public land and conservation efforts also are popular with voters.
On Thursday they released the results of a new statewide poll conducted jointly by two national polling companies, one Republican and one Democrat, that shows two-thirds of Minnesotans say it’s a good idea to use the sales tax revenue dedicated to the outdoors to buy new public land.
The same poll also showed strong opposition to using that dedicated conservation money to help balance the state’s budget. And it showed 55 percent say it’s a bad idea to sell any public land to help solve the budget mess.
Garry Leaf, director of the hunting and angling group Sportsmen for Change — which is not part of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership — said lawmakers and the public must be reminded that taxes were raised in 2008 to solve what had been a widening shortfall in conservation spending.
“We want to keep the promise sold to voters (in 2008) on where this money would go; promises that voters based their decision on,” Leaf said. “We are going to need to come back every year to make sure” that happens.