In his letter to the editor, Tax dollars shouldn’t be used to outbid private buyers, state representative Steve Green, R-Fosston, supported Meeker County commissioners who wished to prevent private landowners from selling their land to the buyer of their choice.
"Outbid" was a curious word choice on Green's part, since there wasn't a bidding war on the property in question. The Meeker County board changed its original vote and allowed the owners to do what they wanted, as we reported in Meeker County commissioners repent freak out about family's plan to donate 153 acres to DNR.
Bemidji Pioneer readers weren't much impressed with Green's logic either. In a letter published on January 14, Consider the benefits of more public lands, Charlie Parson of Puposky wrote :
State Rep. Steve Green (letters, Jan. 10) voices opposition to public ownership of recreational lands and lands of value for long-term management for other reasons such as watershed protection or preservation of critical habitats. His argument seems to hinge solely on the tax base implications of land being transferred off tax rolls when people choose to sell their properties directly or indirectly into public, non-taxed status. I would argue that public lands are critical to the immense recreational economy that we have in Minnesota and that more public lands results in higher values for private lands that remain taxed. However there is already the payment in lieu of taxes provision that makes these public lands not “untaxed,” and that is really the vehicle that may need to be tuned to address the perceived shortfalls of which Rep. Green seems so fearful.
No net loss of taxable lands is only supported by a view that there are no net gains of having land protected from future development. The public lands in Minnesota are the legacy of the citizenry for future generations. They need to continually increase rather than be diminished as farms are abandoned and rights of way are no longer needed so that we preserve the landscapes in which we all take pride and which in turn contribute immensely to our quality of life.
Separate the tax issue from the transfers of land from private to public. Develop another mechanism to support the counties that have the foresight to preserve open spaces. Realize that the local economy benefits financially in many ways from having those public lands, rather than having them bought by wealthier land companies for future subdivision or other development. No net gain of public lands after all means more continued loss of open spaces for sports, recreation, and simple tranquility.
More recently, Bemidji State University Associate Professor of Biology, Wildlife Specialist Brian Hiller wrote in Privatizing more land is a short-sighted approach [emphasis added]:
State Rep. Steve Green wrote a letter of support of county commissioners who objected to the sale of private land to the state (Letters Jan 10). First, Mr. Green claims that state and federal land managers are part of our “overbearing agencies,” yet he fails to see the irony of a county agency instructing a private landowner to whom they can, or can’t, sell their land. Second, what Mr. Green, and his well-documented bias against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, intentionally fails to remind you, the public, is that public lands “owned by the state” are actually owned by everyone. The DNR is merely the agency charged with managing that land for the benefit of the public. Mr. Green also fails to mention that counties are, in fact, paid in lieu of taxes for those public lands by the state or federal government.
Additionally, state lands generate tremendous financial benefit to the state and the counties in which they are located. State public forest land alone generates $17 billion of economic impact and more than 60,000 jobs. Hunting, fishing, hiking, ATVs, and other outdoor recreation generate another $6 billion in expenditures and economic impact annually. The economics are important, but so is the ecological value provided to the more than 300 species that live on public land; including more than 20 game species. Nearly 30 percent of all Minnesota deer hunters only ever hunt public land and, as so many of us here in Minnesota describe ourselves as avid hunters, we know how important access to public lands is for teaching the next generation how to hunt. When we sell off, or prevent the purchase of, public lands by the state, only the wealthy benefit. This moves us towards the European model of pay-to-hunt, which is something the North American model was specifically developed to avoid.
As participation in many outdoor activities continues to decline, we want to remove barriers, not add more. Privatizing more land by allowing counties or local governments to control who buys land is a short-sighted approach, reducing the chances of maintaining the high quality natural environment that’s become a major attraction in Minnesota. We should encourage our resource agencies to maintain the public land we have, and encourage them to strategically add to public holdings.
Our hockey team is literally named the Minnesota Wild; let’s keep Minnesota that way for future generations.
Photo: Public lands.
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