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Federal funds would flow to conservation-minded landowners under bill

Unlocking the match. It’s a phrase you often hear in a fundraising context. A philanthropic organization or individual says they’ll match all donations if smaller donors reach a certain dollars threshold.

Minnesota is trying to unlock a match.

Its Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is currently $16.7 million away from meeting the state contribution of $175 million that would make $350 million in federal funds available. So this is a two-for-one match, with the federal government providing $2 for every $1 from the state.

Sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), HF99 would appropriate $15.5 million in bonding proceeds for the Reinvest in Minnesota program, allowing the Board of Water and Soil Resources to acquire conservation easements on private land.

Up to 5% of the appropriation could be used for restoration and enhancement. Throw on $1.2 million previously approved from the Clean Water Fund and the bill would unlock the match, sending the federal funds forth.

The bill was laid over Thursday by the House Capital Investment Committee for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. Its companion, SF369, sponsored by Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point), awaits action by the Senate Capital Investment Committee.

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, commonly called CREP, is designed to create and enhance grassland and wetland habitats. It works with landowners to target environmentally sensitive land where water quality could benefit as a result of a project. Enrolled landowners maintain ownership and receive payments from both the federal CREP program and the state’s Reinvest in Minnesota reserve program, which is administered by the Board of Water and Soil Resources.

“By putting habitat on the land, we’re not only helping the critters but ourselves by improving our water quality,” Hansen said. “If we can get this funding, it would quickly go.”

Rep. Esther Agbaje (DFL-Mpls) asked if the program addresses equity issues for landowners of color.

Angie Becker Kudelka, assistant director of the Board of Water and Soil Resources, said yes.

“For underrepresented landowner groups, we waive the property size requirement,” she said, “because we know there has been unfair treatment of BIPOC landowners.”

Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) asked, “With new leadership in Washington, is there talk of expanding this further into the future federally?”

“Yes,” Kudelka said. “We’ve found that there’s been much more need than money will currently allow for. We use a scoring and ranking system to establish public benefit, and there’s great opportunity to explore other CREP opportunities.”

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