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MN Deer Hunters Association looking to purchase land for public hunting

By Jean Ruzicka

Minnesota Deer Hunters Association is proposing a Crow Wing River Watershed habitat project, with hopes to acquire Potlatch Corporation lands and open the property to the public for hunting and recreational opportunities.

Craig Engwall, MDHA executive director, appeared before the Hubbard County Commissioners this week seeking support for the initiative. A board decision on the matter is pending after further board review.

MDHA would apply to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for funding to purchase lands from Potlatch “that might otherwise be converted to non-forest uses,” he explained in a memo.

The land under consideration is located in an area that historically contained an abundance of jack pine forest, he told commissioners. “Much of the original jack pine forest has been converted to other forest cover types or non-forest uses.

“This project will not only preserve existing jack pine and other forest stands, but would also seek to restore areas where jack pine was the native cover type.”

The Crow Wing River Watershed covers Hubbard, Wadena and Cass counties, 13,000 acres located in Hubbard County.

“We are not seeking to acquire it all. We will be looking at the best habitat,” Engwall said, indicating a goal of obtaining 10,000 of the 37,000 Potlatch-owned acres in the three counties.

The county, he explained, could own and manage the land as part of the forest land base. Or the MDHA, as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, would draft a sustainable management plan, the land used for forestry purposes. The MDHA would pay local property taxes by generating funds through timber sales. Potlatch land sells at market value.

“We will partner however you choose,” Engwall told commissioners.

“I have issues with property coming off the tax rolls,” Commissioner Cal Johannsen said.

Sen. Rod Skoe has authored a bill to provide forest incentives, Engwall said, which could address this.

Johannsen questioned if assessed value per acre at the agriculture tax rate would be higher than the general forest tax rate.

“This is not anti-agriculture,” Engwall said, indicating he’d spoken with RD Offutt. “We’re supportive; it’s not meant to compete. This is to preserve native jack pine and other forest species.

“We won’t try to buy land without board support,” Engwall told commissioners. “And we’re not looking to acquire land and turn it over to the state.”

“I don’t see a down side,” Commissioner Vern Massie said. “They would still pay taxes. It would be open to the public. I support the idea of getting the applications going” (which are due June 4).

But the motion was withdrawn pending further discussion at a May 12 board work session.

Greg Nelson, Department of Natural Resources Regional Director, contacted after the meeting, said the DNR is looking to purchase 500 acres of Potlatch land in Hubbard County.