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Scott Rall: You can always learn something new

BY SCOTT RALL

The Globe sports columnist

Yesterday was an unusual day for me. Even though I attend many meetings every year that focus in the subject of wildlife habitat conservation, I have only been to the Minnesota DNR Roundtable one other time.  

It is an annual event that puts conservation stakeholders in the same room with top level DNR personnel.

It is an invitation-only event and I have been invited many times, but schedules and other responsibilities kept me away. The one year that I did go, Scott Hain, representing Worthington Public Utilities, gave a presentation to the group about their partnership efforts with Nobles County Pheasants Forever in regard to pemeant protection of the land located within the boundaries of the Worthington Wellhead.  

The wellhead protection area is a mapped area that surrounds the water wells that provide water to Worthington residents and businesses alike.

Worthington gets some of its water now from the Lincoln-Pipestone rural water system as well. Soon it will be hooked up to a big pipe bringing water all the way from the Missouri River in central South Dakota through the Lewis and Clark Water pipeline.

For many years Worthington only had one source of water, and that came from the local wells which are all located within about 1.5 miles of each other and are about six miles south of Worthington.

They received great accolades for their work on permeant water protection.  Scott Hain has told me more than once that even though there will be more than one source of water for Worthington, the only tap that cannot be turned off by others is the local water wells, and that this fact would require an ongoing program to continue to protect it in the long term.

Scott did a great job. We continue the work yet today.

The roundtable always covers all of the important topics of the day, and that can involve fishing issues like new regulations, deer hunting in all of the forms that it takes, and invasive species and what can be done to slow their spread. People are given an opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions on a great number of topics, and attendees can pick and choose which sessions they want to sit in on.

This year’s Roundtable has a general theme that is centered around public lands.  

There are tons of different kinds of public lands.  They can state forest lands.  There are thousands of acres of school trust lands that the DNR manages for timber and mining to raise money for the education of Minnesota students.  There are national forest lands as well.  Then there is The Boundary Waters Wilderness acres on top of that.

In our neck of the woods these public lands can come in the form of wildlife management areas.  These are the ones hunters and others use most in southwest Minnesota for all forms of hunting and photography.

Bird watching is getting to be a pretty big thing on these acres as well.  Then you can add in the federal waterfowl production areas.  These are lands owned by the feds and are purchased with the money raised from the federal waterfowl stamp every duck hunter must buy in order to hunt ducks.

Last but not least, there are state aquatic management areas.  These are very few and far between but consist of a few spots being protected so fish can spawn successfully. Some counties actually own land as well, but these are not big holdings in southwest Minnesota.

All in all, the DNR manages over 5 million acres of land of which the vast majority are in northern Minnesota and are forests.

In Nobles County only 2.5 percent of all the land base is in some form of public ownerships.  In some counties up north, it might be as high as 50 percent or more. I don’t think there is any county in all of south west Minnesota that has more than 5 percent of the acres in public ownership.

I was invited to the DNR Roundtable this year to sit on a panel to discuss the benefits of public lands and what these lands meant to the people of the area that use them. I am honored to participate and look forward to sharing my passion for public lands. I hold strongly to the ideals that if not for a decent public land base the average blue-collar or white-collar hunter would have no place to go, and that outdoor pursuits would become only a rich man’s sport.  I am going to do all that I can do to keep that from happening.

The featured speaker for the day is Land Tawney.  He is the president and CEO of an organization called Back Country Hunters and Anglers. His talk is entitled, “Our Public Lands, Our Heritage Hangs in the Balance.”

There has been and continues to be a full court press in western states to rid these states of public lands and do so by selling them to the highest bidder. The conservation community is pushing back.

Public lands benefit all Minnesotans even if you don’t use them. I could talk forever about flood reduction, pollution and chemical reductions, and water and soil erosion prevention -- and the list goes on and on.  

This will have to be continued another day.  I am going to listen intently and learn all that I can at the meeting to continue to educate and inform others about the benefits of public lands. It is a job that will never be completed. I will share what I learned in a future column.

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