New Minnesota public land projects to the fore in 2023

Tony Kennedy, Star Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

A remarkable year of acquisition and enhancement of public land is in store for outdoor enthusiasts in 2023, starting with $167 million in projects recommended for legislative approval by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

The single-year, record amount of spending proposed by the council is anchored by the planned $22 million acquisition of a giant 2,000-acre parcel in northern Washington County that has been home to an ecologically friendly cattle ranch. Lessard-Sams Assistant Director Joe Pavelko said blocks of clean land of that size are rarely available, let alone in the metro area.

Loaded with grassland, the property would be purchased by Trust for Public Land and become a new wildlife management area under the Department of Natural Resources for hunting, habitat preservation, hiking and foraging. The investment will coincide with Washington County's expansion of Big Marine Regional Park under a deal with the same landowner, Kelley Farms.

The development is in keeping with DNR's partnership theme for 2023. The state-controlled fish and game agenda for the new year will include new efforts to protect native rough fish, lobbying for the retooling of two state fish hatcheries, completing long-overdue management plans for major wildlife areas and honing in on a Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa plan to reintroduce elk to a region of northeastern Minnesota.

"What are the final concerns out there? What else do we need to know?'' asked Kelly Straka, DNR wildlife section chief.

Her team of eight wildlife section leaders is at full force with five new hires. In the realm of partnerships beyond elk, her department in 2023 intends to finalize a memorandum of understanding with the Board of Animal Health to spell out roles and responsibilities to co-manage the state's deer and elk farms. Previously, when the farms were regulated primarily by the Board of Animal Health, DNR wildlife biologists linked outbreaks of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in wild deer to farms where the disease festered in captive deer and elk.


Straka said the DNR's response to CWD in 2023 also will build on a new partnership forged with taxidermists. In 2022, taxidermists across the state were paid by the DNR to collect tissue samples from deer brought in by hunters. Continued CWD surveillance is a cornerstone of Minnesota's attempted management of the always-fatal disease. Straka also said the DNR will build on last year's pilot program that provided a limited number of mail-in kits for hunters to test deer on their own at no cost to them.

In other wildlife pursuits, Straka said she's looking forward to fulfilling a new grant for planning large-scale moose habitat restoration in the Arrowhead region. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation award is for $443,600, applicable to three separate areas, ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 contiguous acres each.

At the Legislature, Straka intends to work with agriculture to build up the state's response to livestock and crop damage caused by wild animals. Other states have stronger programs than Minnesota to answer depredation, Straka said. "I don't like to see wildlife painted as a problem,'' she said.

Fishing focus


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