of war-Pawlenty's right on watersheds
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Gov. Tim Pawlenty is catching flak from the state's major
farm organizations over a splendid proposal to protect
soil and water in three of Minnesota's important watersheds.
While the farmers deserve a fair hearing -- their participation
in the program will be crucial -- state and federal regulators
should not let their objections plow the idea under.
Pawlenty wants to expand on a federal-state collaboration
known as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program,
which pays farmers to idle and protect land along polluted
waterways. It started on Maryland's Chesapeake Bay in
the mid-1990s and came to the Minnesota River under Gov.
Arne Carlson in 1997. Pawlenty would expand it to 100,000
acres of fragile land alongside streams and waterways
that feed the Red River in northwestern Minnesota, the
Missouri and Des Moines watershed in southwestern Minnesota
and the lower Mississippi in the state's southeastern
The dispute is whether farmers must idle their land indefinitely
in exchange for state and federal payments, as the governor
proposes, or merely sell temporary easements.
Farmers have an understandable reluctance to sell long-term
or permanent easements. You never know when a marginal
piece of farmland might become profitable again, and the
federal government's original Conservation Reserve Program
(CRP) used 10-year easements.
Nevertheless, we think Pawlenty holds the high ground
here. In a time of limited state and federal resources,
taxpayers should not have to pay more than once to protect
environmentally sensitive land. And unlike CRP, the new
program targets parcels that are especially vulnerable
-- with erodible soil or proximity to streams -- that
deserve to be taken out of production permanently. The
administration wants to offer options that might include
permanent or 35-year easements.
It's true that the program won't work if farmers refuse
to enroll. But after some initial objections from landowners,
Gov. Carlson had little trouble subscribing enough farmers
in 1997, and the program produced startling improvements
in water quality in the Minnesota River.
Federal ag officials, who must approve Pawlenty's version
of the program, should not let farmers block round two.