Minnesota Buffer Legislation

Dave Orrick, writing for the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Gov. Mark Dayton’s vision to use wildlife habitat to protect Minnesota waters from pollution runoff and erosion is ready for action at the state Capitol.

In January, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor delighted and surprised conservationists by announcing he would push for a 50-foot buffer strip of vegetation along every stream, drainage ditch and river in the state. On Tuesday, a bill containing that vision — and with at least some Republican support — will be heard by an environmental committee of the Republican-controlled House.

Development of the plan, inspired by pheasant hunters seeking ways to boost the state’s declining bird numbers, is being closely watched by environmentalists and farmers alike. The plan would strengthen and close loopholes in existing state law and, at least as initially envisioned by Dayton, create some 125,000 acres of wildlife habitat along waterways that often are failing the state’s water-quality goals.

Among the beneficiaries, supporters believe, would be butterflies; pollinators, such as bees; songbirds; waterfowl; fish and other aquatic life; and degraded waters, especially in farm country. But the expense could be borne by farmers, who might be forced to take cash- producing corn and soybean rows out of production in favor of other plantings.