State forestry program has few safeguards

Published 9:53 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

ST. PAUL — There is so little oversight of a state program that has spent $44 million promoting sustainable forestry on private land that lawmakers should make significant changes to it or scrap it altogether, Minnesota’s legislative auditor said Tuesday.

The Sustainable Forest Incentive Program was created in 2001 to encourage good forestry on private land by locking in agreements for at least eight years that require landowners to submit and abide by sustainable forest management plans. In return, they get incentive payments set at a flat $7 per acre. About 2,300 landowners participated this year, with over 737,000 enrolled acres. The idea behind the payments was to offset property taxes on private forest land, thus encouraging landowners not to develop it.

But Legislative Auditor James Nobles’ report said lawmakers should consider ending the program and identifying better ways of encouraging sustainable forestry. The findings follow Gov. Mark Dayton’s recent calls for next year’s legislative session to focus on eliminating old, unneeded laws and programs.

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