This entry is about the controversy and political maneuvering at the Minnesota State Capitol in 2015 around the White Earth Nation's project "Protecting Forest Wildlife Habitat in the Wild Rice River Watershed". The project was approved for Outdoor Heritage Funding through the thorough, competitive evaluation process of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. Unfortunately, Minnesota GOP Legislators decided in this case to exercise their power to reject this recommendation of the Council. Not due to expertise or additional research, just because they didn't like the arrangement of acquiring land to be placed in the ownership of an Indian Reservation. Some said the controversy was about the loss of property tax revenue, others said (perhaps less concerned about sounding politically correct and more concerned about addressing the issues) that it was about the expected or potential loss of control over the management of the land and the wildlife (including Gray Wolves, which would have sanctuary on Tribal Lands), and others spoke, more or less openly, of racism.
This entry was begun to describe the initial deletion of the White Earth Project from the Outdoor Heritage Funding bill HF 181 on 1/28/2015. After that date, an update was added each time something interesting happened. Each update is presented in its own box, with the most recent on top. The original entry is at the bottom. Confused now? Sorry about that; but the updates just kept coming in; and this blogger couldn't think of a better way to organize them.
Let's start with the 1/28/2015 video:
Full discussion of Rep. Green's amendment to defund the White Earth project.
Rep. Green's out-of-place lecture to the LSOHC, White Earth Tribal Forestry & Wildlife, and MN DNR on the worthlessness of old-growth forest, the impossibility of preserving forest land "just as it is now," the sustainable option of the industrial 30-40 year timber-harvest schedule, and his personal desire to keep the forest land in question out of the hands of White Earth Tribal Forestry & Wildlife agencies and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
On 1/28/2015, the GOP Members of the MN House Environment & Natural Resources Policy & Finance Committee (plus Rep. Dill) deleted a carefully thought-out Legacy Fund appropriation to purchase conservation land.
What did they object to? The largely-public ownership of lands in northern Minnesota.
Why? That question is harder to answer.
The vehicle for the change was the A-4 amendment to the $100 million Legacy Funds appropriations bill (HF 181). It was obviously a GOP-wide proposal, but it was presented by Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston). The language of the amendment was, as the author introduced it, "simple"; but the complications went back years--and hundreds of millions of dollars.
The amendment stripped (at least temporarily) a $2.118 million appropriation from the White Earth program "Protecting Forest Wildlife Habitat in the Wild Rice River Watershed".
Without any justification, expert input, or democratic process, the amendment transferred the funds (at least temporarily) to the Ducks Unlimited program "Accelerated Shallow Lakes and Wetlands Enhancement - Phase VII."
An official and a representative of the White Earth Nation were on hand to answer questions about the program. It was carefully developed, fully examined, and properly approved by the MN Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC). The Council did its work thoroughly and thoughtfully under its mandate from the Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution.
No comment from Ducks Unlimited. They hadn't been consulted on the change.
Despite everything the White Earth program offers to the people of the State, Rep. Green said he wanted to keep the land in private ownership and on the property-tax rolls (yes, he actually said "and I don't want the DNR to have it, either").
Lest anyone would have an easy opportunity to call this a racist action, Rep. Green presented his credentials as an enrollee of the White Earth Nation and a landowner on the White Earth Indian Reservation. Yes, he looks and talks just like his old, white GOP fellows, but he's a Tribal Member.
The fact remains, however, that the White Earth program was singled out from many other programs like it, that have the same effect on property taxes. Just as last year's appropriation for a land purchase on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation was singled out. Clever choice of spokesman, this year, by the GOP.
Like it or not, Minnesotans have an adversarial form of State Government. Each party tells us only the part of the story that supports their point of view. In this case, the DFL told us about conservation, and the GOP told us about property taxes. That left us (and hopefully, other, more level-headed Legislators and the Governor) to weigh the balance.
On one side of the issue are soil and water conservation, tribal relations, indigenous subsistence, rural industry, sustainable agriculture, outdoor recreation, logging, mining, real-estate, and tourism. The White Earth project will secure an element of the environment that's necessary for traditional wild rice production--an industry that is central to the Native American lifestyle and essential for environmental quality. The entire outdoor-recreation community would also benefit, along with all of its supporting industries.
On the other side is the partially-valid complaint that local governments and school districts tend to lose property-tax revenue in Counties where large percentages of conservation lands are bought with Legacy Funds. These complaints are "partially-valid" but, obviously, they ignore the huge benefits of these public lands--and the limited demand for their private ownership. These "partially-valid" complaints also ignore the fact that, for many of these public lands (outside of those purchased with Legacy Funds), Counties do receive payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) from the State and Federal governments that hold the land.
If you search the web for keywords like "MN Legacy Fund PILT", you'll find plenty of reading on the subject, much of it from the 2011 Session of the MN Legislature with Committee Chairman Denny McNamara at the center of a controversy over how to fund the maintenance costs of lands purchased with Legacy Funds.
Well, the controversy hasn't gone away, and yet another volley has been fired, with this amendment to the Legacy Fund appropriations bill.
Right now, there are teams of schoolchildren around the State solving problems like this in computer simulations like SimCityEDU. They're considering both sides of the story, and they're balancing them to come out with a mutually-beneficial result. They're going to make good State Legislators.
And, by the way, there are a number of concerned educators and policy makers working to keep rural schools fully funded and delivering quality education--without skimping on conservation in the process. The link that's being made on this issue between public lands, conservation, and school funding is artificial and false. The actual goal in this case seems to be something other than property taxes or school funding (hint: Tribal relations).
The A-4 amendment to HF 181 was passed 13-8 by the committee on the following, party-line vote:
Yes: Denny McNamara (R), Tony Cornish (R), David Dill (D), Dan Fabian (R), Kelly Fenton (R), Steve Green (R), Tom Hackbarth (R), Dave Hancock (R), Josh Heintzeman (R), Jim Newberger (R), Jason Rarick (R), Paul Torkelson (R), Mark Uglem (R).
No: Karen Clark (D), Peter Fischer (D), Rick Hansen (D), Alice Hausman (D), Frank Hornstein (D), Clark Johnson (D), John Persell (D), Jeanne Poppe (D).
More references can be found by searching the web for keywords like "MN Legacy Fund PILT".
McNamara, Dennis, Rick Hansen, Tom Saxhaug, and Bill Ingebrigtsen. 2015. MN 2015 HF 181 / SF 242: Outdoor Heritage Fund Money Appropriated, Outdoor Heritage Fund Money Requirements Modified, Previous Appropriation Modified, and Appropriating Money. https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?b=house&f=HF0181&ssn=0&y=2015.
Mohr, Jonathan. 2015. "Amendment Could Jeopardize $100 Million Outdoor Heritage Fund Bill." Session Daily. January 28. http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/SessionDaily/SDView.aspx?StoryID=5389.
Mohr, Jonathan. 2015. “How Much Is Too Much: Legacy Committee Surveys State Land Ownership.” Session Daily. February 9. http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/SessionDaily/SDView.aspx?StoryID=5432.