Minnesota taxpayers help “preserve” wilderness

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by Katie Mertz | July 17th, 2009 • This month our sales tax rose by about .4% from a voter-approved constitutional amendment to raise $500 million for habitat and arts over the next two years. The biggest slice of this tax dollar pie is going to preserve almost 200,000 acres of our state’s beautiful north woods around Itasca County.

In the midst of recession, donations to green causes unfortunately aren’t at the top of my budget, but now I can assuage some of the guilt I feel at turning down donation-seekers at my door. This tax attaches the same “warm glow” feeling to my everyday purchases. For readers of the “Minnesotans for Global Warming” blog, I suspect this isn’t the case. Regardless, I’m enjoying my new environmental rewards on top of the mileage ones.

Before we start hugging trees though, a few points of concern deserve mention. The land our taxes are going to “save” is currently owned by UPM Blandin paper company. After the deal, Blandin will continue to own the land, pay property taxes, and harvest it for timber. So… we’re not “saving the trees”? Additionally, the company will receive $45 million from the easement. It doesn’t sound like the Blandin’s sacrifice was too painful. The good news is the state will regulate the land’s use by keeping it accessible for outdoor recreational activities and banning any development or division into smaller chunks. The state has also pledged to protect wildlife and simultaneously opened the land for hunting, apparently seeing no inconsistency there.

This deal bears both the halo of progressive environmental policy and the scars of cowardly compromises. While I think this is a step in the right direction, the state needs to be firm on environmental goals and regulations. If the Sierra Club can do a better job of delivering on its promises, I’d rather give my money to them.

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