The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will help train Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employees and monitor the agency’s forest management to resolve the long-running conflict over logging on the hunting lands of acquired with millions of dollars in federal assistance, according to an agreement announced Thursday.
Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Charlie Wooley and DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen told the Star Tribune they reached a five-point management agreement this week. They described it as a collaborative path from discord over a major change in MNR logging called the Sustainable Timber Harvesting Initiative.
The Star Tribune reported on the expanded logging program and related disputes in late October.
The intensified logging program grew out of a request from the state’s forest products industry for the DNR to expand timber supply. In July 2019, shortly after the computerized plan was launched, 28 DNR wildlife managers openly denounced it as an illegal sale to an industry harmful to wildlife habitat and wasting dollars collected from the sporting public. . Their boss, Dave Olfelt, director of MNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division, continued to defend the new timber program, saying it doesn’t sacrifice wildlife habitat for roping targets.
Some of the grassroots complaints were validated eight months later when two federal wildlife biologists from the Wooley administration monitored logging activity in three of the largest wildlife management areas (WMAs) in the Minnesota. According to a central conclusion of their report, the MNR Forestry Division appears to implement timber harvesting “primarily to meet commercial timber objectives.” forest management on wildlife lands primarily for the benefit of wildlife.
“Ultimately, it appears that forestry controls forest management and timber sales on these WMAs,” the report said.
The oversight report said MNR “may not comply” with seven laws and regulations, including the federal Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act which provides millions of dollars a year to MNR to acquire and manage public hunting grounds. Instead of improving wildlife habitat, some of the sites observed have been exploited to the detriment of critters and hunters, the report says.
Wooley said the DNR is not penalized under the new agreement, nor does the pact require the DNR to lower cordage targets managed by its forestry division. Rather, he and Strommen said the terms of the agreement are meant to reaffirm and emphasize how logging and other forest management practices must be conducted to achieve the wildlife-first principles inherent in the acceptance of federal aid.
In 2020, payments to MNR under the federal program reached up to $24 million in one year, including money for non-forest wildlife areas. Part of the money pays the salaries of the DNR. The funds come from the sales of hunting and fishing licenses as well as the federal excise tax on hunting and fishing gear paid by hunters and anglers on the gear they use.
“It’s about coming together and focusing on a game plan moving forward,” Wooley said. He described the deal as “positive action to run this program the way it’s supposed to be run.”
Prior to the Sustainable Timber Harvesting Initiative, MNR wildlife managers could block or defer cutting that they considered harmful to wildlife. The new management agreement does not restore this power.
Strommen said stringing targets and other aspects of the Sustainable Timber Harvesting Initiative will be revisited in 2023, halfway through the 10-year plan. She also acknowledged that her agency was years behind in delivering blueprint grant-funded writing for “major unit” WMAs. One of the five terms of the new agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service is to complete the plans under new timelines and develop a systematic framework for managing the remaining WMAs.
Other terms of the agreement include:
- The Fish and Wildlife Service and DNR will jointly conduct field monitoring visits to assess logging and other forest management activities to ensure they are meeting objectives and complying with program requirements. federal grants. The two agencies will jointly carry out the follow-up “in a way that promotes communication, learning and transparency”.
- The two organizations will provide jointly directed training to MNR employees in three divisions: Fish and Wildlife, Forestry, and Ecological and Water Resources. The training must provide, among other things, specific requirements that must be followed under federal aid programs.
- MNR will finalize a document that clarifies staff roles in conducting forest habitat management activities in WMZs and Aquatic Management Areas.
- Strommen and Olfelt will write to DNR staff “reaffirming the agency’s direction and commitment” to managing forest habitat on state lands. The message will also reaffirm the DNR’s commitment to federal assistance program requirements and unit-level planning.
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