During the last several years, hunters and anglers have been fighting at both the national and state levels against legislative efforts to sell off public lands to private interests and/or prevent future acquisitions of public lands. Hunting and angling groups like my Backcountry Hunters & Anglers have been at the forefront of fighting these misguided anti-public lands bills. We know that if you take away public lands, you take away hunting and fishing.
Perhaps emboldened by similar efforts in other (mostly Western) states, during 2017, some misguided legislators in Minnesota's House of Representatives pushed anti-public lands bills dubbed "counties no net gain of state lands policy authorization." None of these bills passed. Then, in January, Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, penned a letter to the Bemidji Pioneer railing against Minnesota's public lands.
Make no mistake, these anti-public lands legislators are making anti-hunters giddy. That's because the most powerful anti-hunting movement in the U.S. is the loss of places to hunt and shoot. What those looking to dispose of public lands apparently fail to understand is that our entire North American Model of Wildlife Conservation depends on hunters being able to hunt - and they do that, more than anywhere else, on public land.
For example, a recent survey by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association showed that 60 percent of its members hunt on public land. Denis Quarberg, a former Minnesota Deer Hunters Association president, said last spring in Whitetales Magazine: "Our hunting future is also dependent on land management and the procurement of more available hunting lands."
Over the past decade, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has acquired some 7,000 acres of land each year, an increase of about 0.00125 percent. The state demographer said the state's population is growing about 0.42 percent a year, meaning population is going up about 300 times faster than our addition of public lands. Nationwide, it's estimated that we lose 2 million acres of open space each year to housing, shopping malls, roads, etc. Every day, that's 6,000 acres lost of a finite resource.
Some legislators also bring up the loss of tax base from public-land ownership. However, a state program in Minnesota called Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, offsets this tax loss from state-land ownership. The state Department of Revenue annually distributes more than $30 million in PILT payments to counties. The Office of the Legislative Auditor concluded in 2010 that PILT payments on DNR-acquired lands were generally higher than property taxes on similar private land.
For example, the private taxes paid before the Sweetie Marie Rall Wildlife Management Area west of Worthington, Minn., was purchased were $2,772. The PILT payment is $3,600. That's more tax payment, not less.
As another example, in the case of the Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area, the private taxes were $3,006, and the PILT payment - get ready for this- is $6,390.
Gladly, there are many legislators who recognize the incalculable benefits of public lands.
Minnesota state Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, heads up the Senate's Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee. She's also co-chairwoman of the state's Sportsmen's Caucus. Ruud said last month in Outdoor News, "It amazes me how many (legislators) don't hunt or fish. We need our voices to be heard. ... We have to be very vigilant. ... We don't want to have amendments tacked on here and there." She specifically mentioned the no-net-gain-of-the-public-lands bills.
To help inform and educate legislators about the countless benefits of our great public lands estate, the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers' Minnesota chapter has teamed up with other hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreation groups for a "Rally For Minnesota Public Lands." It's scheduled at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Wednesday, April 25. To RSVP or for additional information, go to mnpubliclandsday.org.
David Lien of Colorado Springs, Colo., and formerly of Grand Rapids, is a former Air Force officer, a board member of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (backcountryhunters.org), and the author of "Hunting for Experience II: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation."