Minnesota's wetland law should go, agency suggests
Doug Smith, Star Tribune
September 25, 2004 DOUG0925
A proposal to repeal Minnesota's Wetland Conservation Act -- one of the most sweeping wetland protection laws in the nation -- underscores the depths of continued budget cuts on state agencies.
A Board of Water and Soil Resources committee recently suggested the dramatic action as an option, saying the agency simply can't absorb any more budget reductions without repealing core programs.
"We've cut and we've cut," said Jerome Deal, chairman of the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), an agency charged with protecting and enhancing the state's soil and water resources. It works closely with soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts, metropolitan watersheds and county water management organizations.
The small agency already has cut 21 percent from its budget the past three years, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration has asked the agency to prepare for another 7.5 to 15 percent cut.
But Pawlenty told BWSR officials Wednesday that he won't allow the wetland law to be repealed. "He sent a clear message that's not on the table," Deal said Thursday at an agency meeting in St. Paul.
"That speaks to the governor's continued commitment to wetlands as a resource," said Doug Thomas, assistant director of the board.
It also leaves the board between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
"We're in a difficult position," Deal said.
"This is ridiculous," said board member Lisa Thorvig of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, one of five state agencies represented on the 17-member board.
"I don't think BWSR should take any more budget cuts. I think you need more money, not less money."
She said without wetlands to sustain water quality, the state will be facing more problems. The agency budgets about $3 million to administer the Wetland Conservation Act.
The 1992 law reduces and mitigates wetland drainage, which benefits wildlife and water quality. Conservation and environmental groups have long supported the law as integral to preventing the continued drainage of the state's wetlands.
"It's the backbone of wetland conservation in Minnesota," said Gary Botzek of the Minnesota Conservation Federation. "Sportsmen's groups have worked hard for it. Ducks and wetlands go hand in glove. Without it, we'd become a dry Omaha."
Jan Goldman-Carter, environmental lawyer and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy board member, attended Thursday's meeting, as did Botzek, after hearing about the proposal to kill the wetlands act.
"BWSR already has been cut to the bone," she said. "If you cut further, it's dysfunctional. They can't oversee wetland conservation without adequate funding."
Deal said the suggestion to repeal the wetlands law wasn't offered for shock effect. The committee said such drastic action would save $3 million yearly but result in a loss of wetlands. It also suggested that, as an alternative, the state assume some federal wetland protection responsibilities now handled by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
Those, combined with existing Department of Natural Resources programs, would provide a "safety net" of wetland regulation. But there would be "significant gaps" without the wetland act, the committee said.
Deal said the state already is missing conservation opportunities because the board doesn't have enough staff members to provide technical assistance to landowners interested in signing up for conservation programs.
State agencies are wrestling with funding issues now as the Pawlenty administration prepares its budget, which will be presented to the Legislature in January.
The state faces a $441 million deficit projected for 2006-07, or about $1 billion counting inflation.
Doug Smith is at email@example.com.
This royally bites! Cut cut cut that is all I heard for the last several years about the various agencies pertaining to wildlife and environment. Enough cuts! We should be ADDING revenue to their budgets to help protect what is left of the wetlands.