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Conservation Groups: Bonding Bill Could Stabilize MN Economy

Conservation groups hope that any bonding bill this year will include more money to protect Minnesota's natural resources, such as the Mississippi River headwaters. (Adobe Stock)
Conservation groups hope that any bonding bill this year will include more money to protect Minnesota's natural resources, such as the Mississippi River headwaters. (Adobe Stock)
April 22, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Earth Day is being observed in non-traditional ways today due to the pandemic. In Minnesota, conservation groups are calling attention to the funding needed to preserve the state's natural resources.

Before the pandemic forced waves of layoffs, Minnesota state leaders had been debating a bonding bill in light of a budget surplus, and talks have resurfaced about creating a public works bill to put people back to work.

Ann Mulholland, chapter director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said conservation spending should play a role.

"Nature plays such an important economic role in our lives," Mulholland said. "Whether that is the tourism industry -- fishing alone creates 43,000 or more jobs in Minnesota."

She hopes to see spending on a variety of conservation initiatives, including limiting forestland conversions.

In January, DFL Gov. Tim Walz proposed a $2 billion bonding package, with more than $300 million for clean water and conservation. Republican leaders insisted on a smaller bill of less than $1 billion.

It's unclear what such a bill would look like now that the pandemic has put a major dent in the state's finances.

But conservation groups point out that funding for their initiatives has waned in recent years with the state becoming more reliant on tax revenue from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

Susan Schmidt, state director of The Trust for Public Land, said that shouldn't be the main funding source.

"For sure, it's helped," Schmidt said. "But of course, it was meant to be an addition to current investments, and unfortunately, those existing investments have taken a hit."

Using state budget data, a 2018 report from Conservation Minnesota noted that conservation funding had dropped from more than 2% of overall spending to less than 1%.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Sustainable Agriculture, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN