25 years ago, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a very important piece of legislation for conservation purposes. The goal was to begin to retire marginal agricultural land, start to protect and restore wildlife habitat on the land, and stop eroding soils on the marginal land in order to protect water quality in adjacent streams and ponds.
The legislation stemmed from a report entitled the “Governor’s Citizen Commission to Promote Hunting and Fishing in Minnesota,” and the Commission was made up of a variety of conservationists and sports men and women. Their recommendation to halt depleting natural resources was a ten-year reinvestment plan for wildlife by proposing the equivalent of our then six percent sales tax on the billion-dollar wildlife industry.
This plan would make 60 million dollars annually available for ten years to start on the goal above. As now, the mid-1980’s were some difficult budget years and the recommended plan was met with startled eyes. But a strong coalition of conservation and wildlife-based groups, along with then Governor Perpich’s backing, and that of concerned legislators like Representative’s John Rose and Elton Redalen, worked for two sessions that led to the Reinvest in Minnesota Resources program (commonly called RIM) being enacted in 1986.
Capital bonding was the funding mechanism for RIM, and the program received an initial ten million dollars to begin buying conservation easements on identified marginal lands. Although far short of the Commission’s recommendation, the program has leveraged private funds and has been greatly enhanced by the Conservation Reserve easement program contained in the five-year federal farm bills. Since 1986, almost all of the capital bonding bills have contained some consistent monies for the RIM program.
Of course, the program wouldn’t have been successful without the state management of the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), and locally by the 90 Soil and Water Conservation Districts throughout Minnesota. They have developed great relations with farmland owners of marginal agricultural land who want a sufficient income source for retiring their land. Since it’s inception, RIM has bought 6,400 individual easements, retiring 193,000 acres, at a cost of $190 million dollars. An additional $280 million has been leveraged through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) wetland restoration program.