A Senate panel on Wednesday approved the $109 million spending package proposed by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for 2015, with more than half those funds targeted at preserving or restoring the state’s diminishing reserves of native prairie.
The recommendations call for the acquisition of almost 2,000 acres of native prairie and would pay for restoration and enhancement projects on another 7,000 acres of such lands.
About 30 percent of the spending package is dedicated to forested areas in northern and southeastern Minnesota, while approximately 17 percent goes to programs in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
In a unanimous voice vote, the Senate Finance Committee sent the recommendations to the Senate floor.
The committee discussed few specifics, prompting Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, to question whether members had been given adequate opportunity to review the package.
“Was there a committee hearing that I missed?” asked Limmer, who serves on the Subcommittee on Legacy. “I just thought as a member assigned to a specific subdivision committee, I would have a little more work to do.”
Limmer noted that past recommendations from the Lessard-Sams council have elicited controversy.
Finance chair Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, responded that the bill already received a full hearing from the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture division. “I thought simply to send it through another subcommittee might have been somewhat superfluous,” Cohen said.
Cohen said that subcommittee reviews typically occur in odd-numbered years when lawmakers dole out the rest of the funds raised under the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, a dedicated sales tax enacted by voters in 2008. The Outdoor Heritage Fund receives one-third of that money, with the rest divided between the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the Clean Water Fund and the Parks and Trails fund.
In response to Limmer’s concerns, Cohen said, “It might not be a bad idea to have a fuller discussion of all funds, not just the outdoor heritage funds.”
The most expensive project included in the council’s 42 recommendation would allocate $10.3 million to Pheasants Forever to acquire native prairie. It also directs $8.1 million to the Department of Natural Resources for the acquisition of Wildlife Management Areas in the seven county metropolitan area, with $4.2 million explicitly dedicated to the Vermillion River Wildlife Management Area in Dakota County.
At the urging of Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, the Finance Committee gave its nod to several amendments, including a provision that bars the use of the outdoor heritage funds to pay for land acquired through eminent domain proceedings.