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Legacy Amendment funding shift perhaps has clerical roots

ST. PAUL An apparent shift in Minnesota Legacy Amendment funding from wetland endeavors to prairie projects might be more clerical than anything else. Contained deep in last week's 93-page report from the Minnesota legislative auditor's report on...

Legacy Amendment logo
The four-color logo was designed by Bernadette Stephenson of St. Cloud, who was one of 76 participants in the design contest. The logo had to illustrate the clean water, outdoor heritage, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage funds that were established after voters approved the Legacy Amendment in 2008.

ST. PAUL

An apparent shift in Minnesota Legacy Amendment funding from wetland endeavors to prairie projects might be more clerical than anything else.

Contained deep in last week's 93-page report from the Minnesota legislative auditor's report on the 2008 voter-approved tax hike that included funding for the outdoors was an interesting observation: Appropriations recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and approved by the Legislature show a distinct shift from wetlands to prairies over the first three years.

Appropriations for outdoors projects that fund prairie programs increased 18 percent -- while money for wetlands projects decreased similarly -- in the first three fiscal years the constitutional amendment has been in effect, according to one of two reports released last week.

Funding appropriated to the outdoors has risen each year, from about $70 million in fiscal year 2010 to nearly $77 million in FY2011 to more than $86 million in FY2012. (We're in FY2012 now.)

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But that rising tide has not lifted all boats equally -- at least not as measured by the Heritage Council's own funding categories. The council and legislature track appropriations by the following major land categories: wetlands, forests, prairies and habitat.

Funding for wetlands actually has decreased each year, from $20.5 million in 2010 to $15.8 million in 2012, according to figures in the report. In terms of ranking, wetlands fell from No. 1 to No. 3.

Prairies, on the other hand, have seen an increase each year, from $14.2 million in 2010 to $32.7 million in 2012. Prairies went from No. 3 to No. 1.

The category of habitat funding has steadily increased, while the forest category saw an increase from 2010 to 2011 before decreasing in 2012 to reach the fourth-place spot.

But Bill Becker, executive director of the council, cautioned that the categories examined by the auditor are those referred to in appropriations bills, and that language is often simplified from the various terrains actually contained in the projects.

"There are some tough calls," he explained, referring to how the categories are determined. "They're 50-50 deals, but you've got to put it somewhere. It's somewhat deceptive."

For example, Waterfowl Production Areas often are listed as wetlands projects. But projects often address more actual upland acreage than watery acreage. Ducks need grasslands surrounding ponds for nesting -- a fact that pheasant hunters are well aware of. That's why Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited often team up to support WPA acquisitions.

Becker recalled a wild rice project in the forested northern part of the state that was classified as a forest project. "But that's really a waterfowl project," he noted.

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Some shifts are real, Becker said, but not a result of any effort to favor one type of landscape over another. A single large project can throw off the numbers.

For example, the $36 million Upper Mississippi Forest Project deal to purchase easement rights to 194,000 acres from forest company UPM Blandin effectively beefed up the 2010 and 2011 appropriations for the forest category.

"That was a one-time opportunity," Becker said. "We had a massive amount of money invested in forest right off the bat, but the availability of forests has dropped off dramatically since then."

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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