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County board denies DNR request for East Lost Lake wildlife area

The Otter Tail County board of commissioners, taking a cautious approach on public land expansion, voted 3-2 to deny a Department of Natural Resources request for land acquisition for a wildlife management area at East Lost Lake. 

At their June 26 meeting, commissioners stated that not all interested committees and residents had gotten the chance to review the DNR's proposal. The County Conservation Committee, for one, had not had time to weigh in on the matter; this was a major factor in the board's decision, as this committee makes recommendations to the board on public land purchases.

Once all parties have had time to look over the proposal, it may be brought back to the county board.

"We need to 'measure twice and cut once' when it comes to public land purchases," said county board member Doug Huebsch. "During the past several months there have been a lot of questions about DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife purchases in Otter Tail County. Every time a piece of land goes into the public sector and out of private sources, society loses property tax revenue."

Huebsch said it's true that the DNR gives a payment in lieu of taxes, However, he said the payment comes from state coffers which he also said is tax money that's considerably less than a private individual pays.  

"I'm a believer in land conservation," he said, "and as a farmer and outdoorsman I understand the need for public lands for lake access, animal habitat, hunting, etc. But at what point is there enough land in the public sector?"

Huebsch said that once the land leaves the private sector, the county loses the property taxes forever and everyone ends up paying more to make up for the lost revenue. He said there also are significant costs to purchase and maintain public lands.   

"Recently, the state of Minnesota had significant budget problems and had to pass their shortfalls on to local governments," said Huebsch, "with changes in the property tax system and payment shifts. At a recent Coalition of Lake Associations meeting, lake leaders wondered why more legacy funds aren't used to protect our water resources."

Referring to the DNR's request for land at East Lost Lake, Huebsch said that if the plan was approved a lake access would be created.

"But it was not clear where that (access) would be," said Huebsch. "The lake residents need to have clarity on the exact location of the proposed access."

He said the county board has been very receptive to long-term wildlife and habitat easements, with individuals retaining ownership of the land and continuing to pay property taxes.