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County approves sale for wildlife land

The segment outlined in red is 80 acres that Stevens County Pheasants Forever and the Department of Natural Resources is working to buy and convert to a Wildlife Management Area, connecting the Everglade Wildlife Management Area and the Fish Lake Wildlife Protection Area in Eldorado Township.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners approved sale of 80 acres in Eldorado Township for inclusion in the adjacent Everglade Wildlife Management Area.

However, commissioners were apprehensive about taking taxable land off the rolls, fearing that state payments intended to make up for that lost revenue might end as Minnesota's budget crisis intensifies.

The board voted for the measure during its regular meeting Tuesday.

The Stevens County Chapter of Pheasants Forever and the Department of Natural Resources jointly sought the county's approval for the land being purchased from David Bjorlin.

Pheasants Forever intends to purchase the property, carry the title for a year and then donate it to the DNR, said Shawn Kirwin of Stevens County Pheasants Forever.

The tract will be open to public use, including hunting.

The DNR's Reinvest in Minnesota program will match all locally raised funds, and Kirwin said other area sportsmen's groups have been contacted about possibly contributing funds.

All but one acre of the tract currently is enrolled in a permanent conservation easement in the Wetland Reserve Program. The purchase will connect the Everglade WPA and the Fish Lake WPA.

Kevin Kotts, DNR Area Wildlife Supervisor, and Kirwin said that adding the land will benefit public-land hunters and the environmental future of the WMA through more consistent monitoring and adjust water levels in Mud Lake, which is in the Everglade WMA. Small wetlands and native grasses already have been restored and planted on the tract through the WRP program, Kotts said.

The property was appraised at $96,000 and is expected to be purchased for $87,000, Kirwin said.

As is done with other WPA property, the State of Minnesota will make Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payments to replace the lost tax revenue, Kotts said.

The county currently receives $768 annually in taxes on the 80 acres, which is $9.60 per acre. Based on current PILT payments for 3,125 acres in Stevens County in WMA, the county can expect about $11.84 per acre for the tract, which totals about $947 per year, Kotts said.

But with the state battling significant budget issues -- which already has cost counties aid money -- Stevens County has "a legitimate concern" about the state continuing PILT payments in the future, County Coordinator Jim Thoreen said.