OUTDOORS: LSOHC funding, getting a piece of the pie
WORTHINGTON -- This week is a big week in the land of fish and wildlife funding. The Lessard/Sams Outdoor Heritage Council members started their decision making process for the 2010 funding year yesterday. I was in St. Paul for a meeting, adding ...
WORTHINGTON -- This week is a big week in the land of fish and wildlife funding. The Lessard/Sams Outdoor Heritage Council members started their decision making process for the 2010 funding year yesterday. I was in St. Paul for a meeting, adding my two cents worth to the endeavor.
There were 40 proposals received by the council totaling over $180 million in requests. There is only just over $55 million to allocate this year, however.
This amount is about $20 million lower than last year as a result of a $38 million forest project that the council committed to fund more than a two-year time span. The forest project included a purchase of a conservation easement on more than 180,000 acres of northern Minnesota forest land. This means that the 187,000 acres will always be open to pubic uses. It also restricts the property from being divided and parceled off. It protects large expanses of forest habitat and the wildlife that use it. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm glad that it got funded.
This year we have to narrow $180 million in requests down to $55 million. The process works like this:
First, all members of the council look over the 40 applications and determine if they meet the constitutional requirements. These requirements restrict the dollars for protection, enhancement and restoration of forests, prairies, wetlands and other game, fish and wildlife habitats. Most of the 40 met this requirement. Each member then assigns a score of one to five as to how well the project meets the overall state goals and another score as to how well it meets the specific eco-region goals. Most of the prior meetings this year were to set up these statewide and regional goals.
Each member's scoring sheet will be posted on the LSOHC website. You can see the projects and how I and other members scored each one. One of the big factors I used for the scoring was the project's intent. If the first priority was game and fish habitat and secondary benefits included flood control, I tended to score the project higher. If the opposite were true, where the primary intent was flood control with wildlife benefits as a secondary concern, these projects fell to the bottom of my list.
These dollars are being raised as a result of the increase in the sales tax passed last fall. These are game and fish dollars and this is where they must be directed. Many other organizations with agendas that are not game, fish and wildlife related are trying to slip in funding proposals to redirect these funds to other municipal government needs. It is the absolute mission of the citizen's council to insure that this misdirection of dedicated funding dollars does not happen. This is my single most important obligation that I have to the sportsmen and women in the state.
This commitment is equally important to all who voted for the dedicated funding amendment.
There is easily more than $55 million of great proposed projects. Deciding whose project gets funded to what level is a difficult process. I've had an overload of e-mails this week from potential recipients, writing to tell me why their project is better than the next one.
The initial scoring has been completed and all of the projects that I thought had high merit made the cut. It will take two months to hear details of each project that made the cut and the council will make recommendations to the legislature by the first of the year. We only make recommendations and the legislature can pass and make any changes they see fit. Last year all of the funding recommendations were passed except for $2 million that was redirected for control measures for the Emerald Ash Borer.
I'm having a hard time deciding the cost/benefit portion of some potential projects. The question is if you have $3 million to spend, would most Minnesotans rather protect 1,000 acres of habitat in out-state Minnesota or would they prefer to protect 250 acres of habitat in the metro area where the costs can easily be four times greater.
My best guess? It depends on who you ask.
I want to get the best overall habitat available and this cost issue can make those decisions difficult.
One thing I know for sure. The outfits that received funding last year will need to have put those funds to work on the ground if they think they will get any more funding from me this year.
The groups that get the job done will be recipients year after year in many cases. If you show up in subsequent years and have no measurable gains on the ground, you might as well just stay home.
There is one other component of dedicated funding that is underway -- the small grants program.
This program is designed to make grants to small organizations all over the state on a 10 to one match. It is my understanding that this program received 165 requests totaling more than $11 million. The small grants program has $3.6 million to distribute. It is my intention to see that the projects submitted to this program are quality projects, and if they are, I will lobby for the small grants program to be upped to $8 million in the next funding cycle (2 1/2 times the current funding level).
Small grants engage all corners of the state and all walks of life in the habitat conservation communities. There is no better way to spend these habitat dollars that with the most common denominator of conservation, and that is the rank and file hunter and fisherman. No one cares more and no one tries harder. These folks lead the charge to pass dedicated funding and as a result all Minnesotans will benefit. Log on to the LSOHC Web site, check out the proposals and drop me an e-mail if you have a question.
Let the process begin!
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe's outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com by clicking on Northland Outdoors.