Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellingson and State Auditor Julie Blaha’s unanimous vote Wednesday allows Phillip Sonstegard to sell 80 acres of his land in Baxter Township, Talking Lake County, in MRN. The land will form part of the Baxter Wildlife Management Area, which it borders.
Sonstegard stressed to the council that the main tenet of land ownership in this country is the right to transfer ownership, and he made it clear that it was his desire to sell the land to the MNR.
Before voting, the three council members said the issue of owner’s right was the deciding factor for them.
“Landowner is the top priority in this area,” Governor Walz said while expressing appreciation for the concerns raised by Parle Lake County.
The DNR and Sonstegard reached a deal to sell the land in 2018, but the Speaking Lake County Commissioners Council voted in February 2019 to block the sale. Sonstegard appealed the county council’s decision to the Talking Lake County District Court and obtained a ruling allowing him to take the case to the state. Land Exchange Council.
This is the first time that MNR has sought state council approval to purchase a property, Jess Richards, MNR’s deputy commissioner for ecological and water resources and the lands and minerals division, told council.
“The citizens of Speaking Lake County understand the value of conservation,” Todd Patzer, a member of the county commissioners, told the state land council.
But Patzer said the county currently has 15 percent of its land under conservation, and the county’s citizens are extremely concerned about protecting farmland for its economic importance. An acre of recreational land provides only a tiny fraction of the economic benefits over farming, he said.
Recently elected president of the Minnesota Counties Association, Patzer said rural residents don’t feel their voices are heard. He also expressed concern about the cumulative effect of seeing land taken out of agricultural production for recreational purposes.
“We cannot slowly become just a place for recreation and conservation, a place to enjoy on a few beautiful fall Saturdays,” Patzer said.
The county will receive approximately $ 1,945.50 per year in payment in lieu of state taxes for the property, compared to property taxes of $ 1,556. Patzer took issue with the DNR’s position that the county is not negatively affected financially by the acquisition. It’s not just taxes. He underlined the income that the land would generate as agricultural land and the importance of the agricultural economy over that of recreation.
“With the exception of one or two guide companies, there is not a single company in Parle Lake County that is fully supported by hunting or tourism, while almost all of the companies depend on it. ‘agricultural economy,’ he said.
Patzer said Sonstegard had other options than selling to the DNR. “Farmland is in demand and if he wanted, Mr. Sonstegard could rent or sell this property to a private owner or farmer. ”
Patzer also suggested that the price offered by MNR for the land is significantly higher than the local market. If this is true, he said, “we should ask why. “
Sonstegard said he received a call from a farmer interested in the property. The man made an offer of $ 100 an acre and explained that it was not the kind of land they liked to cultivate, Sonstegard told the board of directors. It is divided into different fields and much of the land is often too wet.
The land had an estimated market value of $ 259,400 in 2018. Richards told the board that MNR was only allowed to purchase based on the appraised value of the land based on the estimated market value.
Anne Borgendale, a resident of Lac qui Parle County, who lives two miles from the Baxter Wildlife Management Area, has spoken out in favor of selling the land to MNR. She told the board of directors that she and others in the county believe the county benefits from a mix of conservation and agriculture.
The vast majority of the county’s land – 89% in 2017 – is for agricultural use and very little remains of natural habitat, she said. Access to the outdoors and the natural environment benefits those who do not own land in the county, while providing water quality and other benefits to all residents, she said. declared.
Borgendale told the board that there were much bigger factors at work causing the population decline and changes in his rural county.
“It’s not just state and federal governments taking land,” she said.
A host of conservation organizations across the state, including Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, have joined in urging the state council to support the land purchase.
Greg Kvale, a board member for the Minnesota Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said the MNR had left Sonstegard to take the case to the district court and the land exchange board. When county councils reject a land sale, the DNR should take the matter directly to the Land Exchange Board and not place the financial and psychological burden of raising a contentious issue on the landowner, he said. .
Walz and board members said they anticipate more issues like this will arise. This case has served as a proxy for many other issues, from changing demographics to changes in our economy and our way of life, the governor said. He also acknowledged Patzer’s concerns that rural residents are not being heard and urged MNR to engage with residents “in a way they feel heard.”