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County looks at long-range conservation planning

The Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners, striving to strike a balance between conservation and economic development, took up the subject of long-term conservation planning at a meeting March 26.

Addressing the board on this subject was Craig Johnson of rural Dent, a retired college professor whose background includes land reclamation, forestry and wildlife planning.

Johnson, a native of Willmar who now lives at Big McDonald Lake, joined the Utah State University Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning faculty in 1966. He has authored books on forestry, land reclamation, planning and design for urban wildlife and conservation corridors.

“The process of long-term conservation planning can include a cooperative effort among the general public, governmental agencies such as extension services, lake associations and educators,” said Johnson. “The process would include an overall vision and setting objectives by establishing a county ad hoc committee.”

Commissioner Lee Rogness said he sees conservation planning as a companion to comprehensive planning for Otter Tail County.

Johnson has a master of science degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology from South Dakota State University. In 2001, he received The Wildlife Societies book category award for his publication on conservation corridors.

“We don’t need to reinvent things,” said Johnson. “We can successfully map what’s already out there. A key to all of this is talking with people about best conservation practices.”

According to The Minnesota Campaign for Conservation Coalition, Minnesota’s natural resources will face unprecedented challenges in the next decades.

The coalition notes that Minnesota is the fastest growing state in the Midwest, adding more than one million people from 1970 to 2000. The state is expected to grow by an additional 1.2 million by 2030.

Because of decreases in household size and increases in acres per household, these 1.2 million people are expected to convert more than one million acres from natural areas or farmland to development in the next 25 years. That’s a land area equivalent to four of Minnesota’s larger counties.

The state conservation group says that some of the regions under greatest pressure are also among the most scenic and environmentally significant in the state. These include areas rich with lakes, rivers, fish, wildlife, wetlands, prairies and forests.

Economic pressures are driving many landowners to sell and subdivide large tracts of forested and natural land, especially in northern Minnesota, fragmenting and endangering fish and wildlife.

Tom Hintgen, Otter Tail County Correspondent