Restoration of shallow lake habitat in southern and western Minnesota is one of the habitat programs funded by a new 25-year conservation tax in the state. Photo courtesy of Ducks Unlimited.
A new three-eighths cent Minnesota sales tax that took effect July 1 is beginning to result in conservation improvements. Approved as a constitutional amendment by Minnesota voters in November 2008, the tax is in place for 25 years and is expected to raise about $250 million per year for habitat protection, clean water and parks and trails projects.
The first headliner among projects funded by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is the largest forest preservation deal ever in the state. About $36 million in taxpayer money, combined with private funds, will purchase conservation easements on 300 square miles of northern Minnesota forestland, staving off potential division of the habitat into a checkerboard of smaller private parcels. Landowner UPM Blandin will continue to own the land and manage it for forest products, but development is prohibited and public access to the land is preserved.
About $80 million of funding annually is earmarked for clean water projects ranging from drinking water source protection to sewage treatment upgrades. Another $35 million goes to parks and trails and approximately $50 million to arts and cultural heritage funding.
The successsful 2008 ballot initiative was the result of 10 years of lobbying effort. Fishing and hunting groups originally pushed for earmarked funding after years of declining support in the state budget. In 2007, they joined forces with environmental groups, who were also alarmed that less than 1% of the state budget underwrites the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other programs.
Steve Morse, director of the nonprofit Minnesota Environmental Partnership, called the amendment “a generational-long effort” in which Minnesotans voted “to chip in a little bit of money each day in order to protect what is really valuable for our state.” The new tax amounts to less than 4 cents on a purchase of $10.
In 1976, Missouri became the first state whose voters approved earmarked conservation funding.