Budget idea: Sell trees to get new moneyMinnesota should sell walnut trees to help the state's budget, a state legislator suggests.
By: Anne Jacobson, The Republican Eagle
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota should sell walnut trees to help the state's budget, a state legislator suggests.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, convinced a committee to amend an outdoors funding bill to include his idea to sell black walnut and other trees in southeast Minnesota's Frontenac and Whitewater state parks.
The lawmaker said the walnut tree is the most valuable in the state, but could not estimate how much the state would receive if the action was taken. He said income gained from selling the trees could soften the projected closure of at least 10 of the state's 66 state parks under a Republican-written outdoors budget bill.
The University of Minnesota Extension Service reports that black walnut trees are the Midwest's most valuable, and used for high-end furniture and other items. No one knows how many black walnut trees are on state land.
To no one's surprise, Drazkowski's idea upset environmental groups.
Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, said that even in tough economic times Minnesotans want to protect the outdoors.
"Minnesotans passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008 to ensure our parks, trails and other natural areas are preserved for our children and grandchildren," Morse said. "Now, the Legislature is significantly and disproportionately cutting state support for our state and regional parks, and looking for other ways to backfill these cuts, such as selling off priceless features of these state parks. The old growth native trees are an important attraction and a key piece of our citizens' enjoyment of our state parks."
Bruce Ause of Red Wing was more pointed in his criticism. He is the Environmental Learning Center's original director and a longtime volunteer at the Frontenac State Park.
"With this proposed legislation, Rep. Drazkowski is only enhancing his reputation of putting forth ridiculous initiatives without first running them by the common sense sniff test. Harvesting high valued timber from Frontenac and Whitewater State Parks would severely compromise the integrity of both parks," Ause said.
"If Drazkowski is interested in revenue from timber sales, the state forest system would be a much better alternative. It appears that to balance the budget on spending cuts alone, Rep Drazkowski is becoming very desperate," he added.
Minnesota General Law Section 86A declares that state parks must be managed to preserve, perpetuate, and interpret natural features that existed in the area prior to settlement. The law goes on to say that management shall seek to maintain a balance among the plant and animal life and to re-establish desirable plants and animals that were formerly located in the park area but are now missing.
Jason Jech, current ELC director, said it's his understanding that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reflects this mandate in its state park management policy. The policy also is recognizes that restoring certain parkland to pre-settlement status is simply not possible.
When done properly, logging can improve the health and quality of the trees left, promote the growth of more desirable trees or vegetation, and minimize disease and other infestations, Jech noted.
"I fully support logging when done properly, but state parks are our crown jewels so to speak and we need to protect them," Jech said. "If we are logging these parks to improve the quality of the vegetation found there, then that is a good thing. If we are logging them sole to increase revenues then we need to look seriously at the short-term gain we will experience versus the long-term loss."
Don Davis contributed to this report.