Details on Gov. Dayton's Riparian Buffer Proposal Begin to Emerge

On February 16th, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr invited over 20 environmental and conservation groups to attend a presentation of the Framework for The Governor's Buffer Initiative and to provide feedback and direction. MLR was there to represent lake home and cabin owners, a group that will be affected by any rule changes concerning riparian property.

The primary goal of this initiative for Governor Dayton is to improve water quality in the state. The day before, at a celebration of the Legacy Amendment, it became clear that despite a nearly $100 million a year ANNUAL investment in water in Minnesota due to the Legacy Amendment, Minnesota would have the same number of degraded lakes that we have today when the fund expires in 2033. At the Pheasant Summit in early December, attended by Governor Dayton, loss of riparian habitat was identified as a key contributor to pheasant number declines.

If Minnesota hopes to lower the number of degraded lakes in the state, we will have to do more. Governor Dayton's initiative is a step in this direction.

The focus of the discussion at the Riparian Buffer Framework meeting was mostly on agricultural lands. Governor Dayton has made clear that his Buffer Initiative will apply to ALL waters in the state, and Commissioner Landwehr affirmed this by saying he wanted to use the "my mother test." Said Commissioner Landwehr, "If my mother would call something a waterbody, then it is a waterbody." The definition will include all perennial watercourses (flowing water most of the growing season.) The DNR is in the process of developing maps for all covered waters, but there will be a need for some exceptions. Said Commissioner Landwehr, "We probably don't want to buffer a beach or a road." 

The Framework defined a buffer as "50 foot wide with perennial vegetation that is not open to public access."  This definition would allow cutting, haying, grazing and mowing, so a 50 foot wide buffer of Kentucky bluegrass would meet the requirements of the definition. Under the Framework local units of government will be the primary enforcers, but the DNR will, "hold local units of government's feet to the fire," said Commissioner Landwehr. 

It is expected that the DNR will present a bill to the legislature by the March 20th deadline that will seek any legislative changes necessary to implement Governor Dayton's Buffer Initiative.

"Sticks with teeth, carrots for adding public value."

Commissioner Landwehr made clear that in addition to strong enforcement of riparian buffer rules, the initiative should include incentives for property owners to go above and beyond the minimum, saying he wanted an initiative that had, "... sticks with teeth, carrots for adding public value." In this there is a great deal of opportunity. In 2008 the Minnesota Conservation and Preservation Plan recommended the use of incentives as a much under-utilized tool in the conservation toolbox, but to date there have been no efforts by the MN Legislature to put good incentives for shoreline conservation and preservation into place.

Over development of lakeshore is one of the contributing factors to both loss of aquatic habitat and native shoreline, affecting not only water quality, but fisheries and aesthetic values on our lakes. As any lakeshore or riverfront property owner knows, the tax pressure on this sensitive riparian property is intense, often forcing owners to sell off or subdivide the very land the state is seeking to protect for the benefit of public waters. This session MLR will work to advance the Sustainable Shoreline Incentive Act, (SSIA) an incentive program for property owners who go beyond the 50 foot Kentucky bluegrass buffer, and preserve or restore native buffers on their property. Now is the time, in conjunction with Governor Dayton's Buffer Initiative, to put reasonable incentives in place for the protection and restoration of Minnesota's shorelines.

 

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