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Scott Rall: Public land is citizen-owned land


The Globe outdoors columnist

There is no greater defender of public lands than yours truly.

There are all sorts of public lands.  There are state and national forests. There are national monuments. There are some super unique wilderness areas like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. There are portions of oceans set aside for preservation that the public can enjoy.

There seems to be a serious misunderstanding by certain segments of the population when it comes to public lands, be they state or federal.

I hear often from those who, if they were president for a day, would eliminate all public lands. They say the state has no business owning land.  They also feel the federal government has no business owning land.

The misconception here is, who they think the state and federal government is? When there is an acre of land preserved in Minnesota in the form of a wildlife management area, it is not owned by the state.  It is not owned by the governor. It can be used by any member of the public regardless if you are a Minnesota resident or not.

The key concept here is that each and every acre of these important state lands are owned by each and every resident of the state. Now, it is true, that these same residents might entrust the safeguards and management of these lands to a state agency like the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Just because they manage them does not in any way confer that they own them.

I have written before about the big pushes out west to sell off millions of acres of federal lands.  Some politicians in these states see these lands only as a playground for the rich and famous. There was an article I read, written by the president of the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, that showed just how false these assertions were.

For the most part, public lands are accessed by the rank and file members of our communities. In one western state the vast majority of the hunting and fishing licenses were issued to residents of those states.  The facts went on to show that 90 percent of those state residents hunted and recreated almost entirely on those same public lands.

I am fortunate to own a very small slice of hunting land in Nobles County.  Very few folks can invest the necessary funds to own their own spots. This is where citizen-owned lands come into play.

The majority of the time, when I run into a hunter in Nobles County, they are hunting on citizen-owned land. More than 100 times I have been told that if Nobles County Pheasants Forever had not been active in this area, they would have no place to go at all.

I have covered this subject matter many times, but it bears repeating.  Citizen-owned public lands do so much more than just offer a hunter a place to go.

Citizen-owned lands offer many additional benefits. Let’s look at the recent flooding events in the area. For all practical purposes the wetlands in southwest Minnesota have been drained. On citizen-owned lands these wetlands are restored by disconnecting the drainage tile that runs through them.  This allows the rains that fall on these acres to be captured and released slowly into the aquifers below. Water that does not infiltrate is slowed down immensely and then runs into the streams and rivers of our area.

One citizen-owned parcel north of Wilmont had 18 wetlands restored on it.  They were all in the upper reaches of the Heron Lake watershed which is one of he most overloaded systems in the Upper Midwest.

Even without any restored wetlands, grassland acres held in the public trust can hold over six million gallons of water per section before any of that water runs off.

These same citizen-owned lands reduce chemical runoff and also reduce soil erosion. Add in the fact that citizen-owned public lands are now the last bastion of hope for many different species of bees and butterflies. The acres are planted with flowers and forbs designed specifically to help these imperiled pollinators.

So, the next time you hear an anti-citizen-owned public land politician or any other anti-public land advocate, remind them that these are citizen-owned lands for the benefit of all, especially the regular people who have nowhere else to recreate. Remember to ask your representative their stance on citizen-owned lands. Tell them you won’t forget their answers come November.