Otter Tail County commissioners approved habitat conservation easements on seven properties totaling just over 776 acres at their Nov. 9 meeting.

Habitat easements with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are arranged by landowners who want to protect wildlife habitat forever. The land they put into an easement means that the landowner still owns the land, pays taxes and eliminates noxious weeds and ensures that beaver activity doesn't block nearby roads. Depending on the kind of easement, they can still use it as pasture or cut hay on it after July 15 each year. They can't plant row crops on it or develop it, but they do receive tax breaks.

The easement protects migratory birds, especially waterfowl and grassland birds like meadowlarks, bobolinks, and sparrows, as well as wild turkeys, pheasants, and white-tail deer and other wildlife, said Neil Powers of the federal wildlife agency.

“We really try to respect the rights of the landowner and what they want,” Powers told the board. "We are also trying to keep an eye on the greater good for the county as well. Certainly the interest in a conservation easement program that might impact agricultural economics within the county is something that we also want to pay attention to."

Easements were granted to the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club for 67 acres in Orwell Township; Robert Preuss for 33 acres in Parkers Prairie Township; Scott Korkowski for 325 acres in Parkers Prairie Township; Rick and Cindy Drevlow for 126 acres in Oscar Township; Wasson Family Trust for 78 acres in Dane Prairie Township; Timothy and Julie Hawthorne for 70 acres in Elmo Township; and Andrew and Abbey Yechout for 77.7 acres in Eagle Lake Township.

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In a letter to commissioners, the Drevlows describe their land as hilly and highly erodible and best suited for wildlife and grazing.

Otter Tail County is home to more than 1.4 million acres.

In other news:

  • Commissioners set Tuesday, Nov. 23, as the date for their final vote on the proposed Renewable Energy Ordinance. This ordinance will determine how solar and wind power structures will be set up in the county.
  • Hearing that a handful of farmers are continually violating the buffer law, which requires a strip of vegetation alongside rivers and lakes to protect water quality, commissioners directed staff to take faster enforcement action. Staff will draft a policy that they hope will bring repeat offenders into compliance.
  • An unnamed driver for the Friday Food Truck program in Pelican Rapids donated his $1,265 compensation to the county's Veterans Service Office. He identified himself as a veteran. Commissioners accepted the donation. For now, the money went into the account for the van used to transport veterans to medical appointments, but it may also be used for other opportunities.

  • Commissioners condemned a small section of land on County Highway 67 south of New York Mills so that it could replace a culvert as part of improving the road. The owners didn't want to give permission to the county for the work, so the county exercised its right of eminent domain. The owners will be compensated.

  • Those watching the commission meeting on the Otter Tail County YouTube channel may have had some trouble hearing, as the county's new audio system didn't pick up all voices. The state's open meetings law does not require local governments to provide good-quality remote access unless an elected official is joining remotely or the public can't attend the meeting in person because of the pandemic. The county did make an effort to adjust its microphones to slightly improve audio quality.