It's the morning of the Fourth of July and I am looking out the office window at Rall Financial Services. I loved seeing all the flags being flown on my way to my office to write this column. Why is it that only on the Fourth of July that so many people fly the symbol of our American freedom?
I would love to see them every day. If you are one of those flying a flag, please leave it up and if you are one of those that don't fly an American flag please buy one today and fly it every day. America is the greatest county on planet Earth and we are all lucky to live here.
While you are at it take a moment to thank a service member, current or veteran, for their efforts to keep it that way.
I just received the binder of projects that have been submitted to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for consideration for the upcoming round of funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. This fund was a result of the passage of the constitutional amendment in 2008 to dedicate three-eighths of one percent of the sales tax to outdoor and natural resource causes. I have until July 18 to make my initial assessments and assign a ranking to each project.
The total of the proposals submitted are more than $270 million and there is about $100 million that will be awarded in July of 2014. The process of narrowing these down to the $100 million is the job of the Outdoor Heritage Council. I have been on the council since its inception in 2008. I was appointed by Gov. Pawlenty for a staggered two-year term initially and re-appointed by Gov. Dayton for an additional four-year term of which is a little over half done. I have driven over 40,000 miles back and forth to the Capitol over the past 4 1/2 years representing southwest Minnesota and the entire state regarding the wildlife habitat issues that we have.
It is the council's job to recommend a list of projects for the Legislature to review and then pass. They have the final say on what gets funded and what doesn't. The council is non-partisan and is charged with recommending only the highest quality projects that offer the best bang of the buck and have a lasting outcome.
The council was the brain child of the backers of the amendment to ensure that politics was not the driving decision maker as to what the funds would be spent on, and in what political district boundary they would be spent. It is the best possible setup if only the highest quality and most pressing habitat needs are to get funded with what seems like a ton of money but in reality is less than 5 percent of what could be done very year if funds were unlimited.
In the early weeks of the council's existence the body scheduled meetings all over the state and asked both natural resource professions and rank and file sportsman and other concerned Minnesota residents what were the most pressing natural resource needs in their part of the state. The state actually has five very different landscape types. They are the northern forest region, prairie region, southeast forest region, forest/prairie transition region and the metro/urban region.
All you have to do is look at the different regions and it does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that they each have their own distinct habitat challenges and issues. We gathered these stake holders' input and after an extensive process came up with a list of general statewide priorities and then five much more specific eco-region priorities lists.
Depending on which part of the state the requester is proposing to do habitat work in, the specific eco-region priorities will direct their habitat project efforts to ensure they meet the directives of the council and work on the most pressing issues of that region. In addition to these statewide and region specific priorities, the council also created a 25 year plan.
The 25 year plan is a long-term plan with specific bench marks or targets that results can be measured against as time go on. The dedicated funding amendment has a 25-year life span and is currently 5 years old. The council has 19 more sets of recommendations to make. It is very hard to imagine that its life is already 20 percent over. It will need to be renewed by voters after the 25 years is up. This is why it is so important to do a good job now. I take the responsibility very seriously.
Applications are received, reviewed by each member individually and assigned a numerical score between 1-100 based on how well they meet the stated objectives. The individual member scores are tallied and compiled into a list from high to low. Projects that score high enough are given a hearing. The hearings allow the project manager to give the council the specific details on how, what and specifically where the projects will take place and what the final outcomes will be.
Once the hearings are completed the members individually allocate the available funds to the projects that they feel best meet the habitat objects of the region and the state overall objectives the best. After a few council meeting we compile our recommendations, and it takes a super majority of the council to pass those recommendations off to the Legislature.
That means it needs nine of the 12 members to vote yes. The super majority requirement means the council needs to be very clear and almost unanimous in what we feel are the best of the best. I love the way this system works and the results are very sound, in my opinion.
Bringing home the bacon to any specific political district has no bearing on the council recommendations. Eight of the 12 members are not politicians.
The current process is the very best process I have seen to fund habitat needs across the state. With all the pressures on habitat from 100 different challengers, it needs all the help it can get.
My scores will be posted on the LSOHC website in the next two weeks. Take a look at them and feel free to call me with your thoughts on any of these projects or what else you might like to see done across the state. I am your voice.