Resource management

Counterpoint: the management of the DNR’s resources is passionate, prudent, balanced

Minnesotans are passionate about the state’s natural resources. This passion is shared by the management and staff of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Minnesotans also have different ideas on how best to manage our shared resources for the future. It is essential that the DNR hears all of these voices.

However, it is also important that prospects are fully informed with facts. This is why I wanted to clarify some misinterpretations that appeared in “Minnesota’s Wrong Turn on Natural Resources” (Opinion Exchange, November 12) by Steve Thorne, MNR Deputy Commissioner from 1978 to 1990.

forest management

In 2017, then-government. Mark Dayton asked the DNR to analyze whether a timber harvest of one million cords from state-managed forest land was sustainable. The resulting independent contractor-led Sustainable Timber Harvesting (STHA) analysis was the most comprehensive and sophisticated analysis of its kind that MNR has ever conducted.

The analysis examined a range of potential harvest scenarios and effects on ecosystems, watersheds, biodiversity, habitat and forest economy. It was based on input from environmental, conservation and industry stakeholders. Ultimately, the DNR determined that a harvest of 1 million cordons was not sustainable. The agency’s final decision was to offer 870,000 cords of wood per year, an increase of 70,000 cords over the previous level of supply which ensures the diverse mix of tree species and ages required for maintain healthy forests.

Logging in wildlife management areas

Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) exist to provide wildlife habitat and wildlife focused recreation. Forest species need a variety of conditions to thrive, and timber harvesting is a common habitat management tool. MNR works with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on a number of its grants to ensure that MNR manages WMAs in a way that meets habitat goals and other requirements. In particular, within the framework of the STHA, the modeled and actual wood offers on the WMAs are stable or slightly lower than those of the last years. As USFWS Regional Director Charlie Wooley and I reiterated recently, MNR and the department share the same goals of habitat improvement for wildlife and wildlife-based recreation.

Off-road vehicles

The use of off-road vehicles (ORVs) by the people of Minnesota has increased dramatically in recent decades. The 1980s demonstrated the damage to natural resources when the state did not offer purpose-built OHV trails. Today, MNR works with communities to manage trails, enforce laws and regulations, and provide appropriate designated routes to help protect natural resources. One example is the border-to-border tourist route, which will be a mapped route of existing roads, mostly unpaved.

After careful consideration, MNR’s environmental review unit, which is independent from the project, determined that an environmental assessment worksheet was not required on this existing road, where registered vehicles can already be driven. .

Additionally, the DNR is working with the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to review a locally led trail project in Houston County. This analysis is intended to ensure an appropriate environmental review for trail development.

Copper, nickel mines

As an agency with specific regulatory responsibilities, MNR’s environmental review and licensing work is based on existing laws and rules. The DNR published the Minnesota Non-Ferrous Metal Mining Rules in 1993 after an eight-year process with broad stakeholder participation. Projects must meet or exceed all legal requirements. After a lengthy environmental review, including strong public participation, MNR approved an environmental impact statement for the project. MNR issued several permits for Minnesota’s first non-ferrous metal mine in November 2018.

The mining and dam safety permits we have issued have been contested on several fronts. In its final decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld almost all of the DNR’s decisions, clarifying an important question about legal status, requiring the DNR to establish a fixed term for the operating license, and ordering the DNR to hold a hearing on the disputed case on one issue.

It is a force that Minnesotans have diverse and passionate views on the work of the DNR. We have the obligation and the opportunity to harness this strength by coming together for evidence-based dialogue and collaboration to inform the best possible decisions for our collective future. I encourage the people of Minnesota to take advantage of the many ways to contribute to our work, including our new Commissioners Office Hours sessions and the online platform Engage with DNR.

I am proud of our dedicated MNR staff who work so hard on behalf of the Minnesotans. I share their passion and am honored to lead their work to protect and manage our state’s precious resources.

Sarah Strommen is Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.