Feds Withhold Minnesota Grant Due to Overlogging
DNR Told to End Timber Cuts in Wildlife and Aquatic Management Areas
Washington, DC —The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has admitted to violating federal law in conducting timber operations in sensitive fisheries and wildlife areas, according to a letter from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the federal agency has withheld $14 million in conservation aid until the state can demonstrate compliance with federal environmental laws.
The dispute has been building for years and revolves around DNR clearcutting to meet “timber cord quotas” in designated Wildlife Management and Aquatic Management Areas at the same time it is accepting federal money to restore these very areas. DNR’s timbering practices based on timber cordage goals have also drawn loud objections from DNR’s own wildlife and ecology specialists.
In a letter dated August 7, 2023, FWS Regional Director Charles Traxler informed DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen that “the DNR has acknowledged that it sold logging permits without providing the necessary” documentation showing that these sales were consistent with federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act. In the letter, Traxler indicated that the state agreed that it “will not offer timber for sale on any State Wildlife Management Areas and Aquatic Management Areas.”
Meanwhile, FWS will withhold FY2023-2025 wildlife habitat restoration funding until “all grant compliance and documentation issues are agreed to…”
“We applaud this action by the Fish and Wildlife Service. U.S. taxpayers should not subsidize Minnesota’s backward and destructive logging practices,” declared PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former senior U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforcement attorney. “It is outrageous that the Department of Natural Resources was using habitat restoration funds that would degrade the very habitats they were supposed to enhance.”
This last December, PEER wrote to FWS PEER complaining about DNR’s eco-violations and urging that “FWS should withhold any unallotted Federal Aid funds” and “DNR should not be permitted to set timber harvest targets on lands set aside for fish and wildlife that are not demonstrably linked to established, well-defined fish and wildlife habitat goals.”
Beyond Minnesota, PEER has been concerned about state misuse of federal wildlife aid generated through the Pittman-Robertson Act and has petitioned FWS to withhold these funds from states engaged in excessive removal of predators, such as wolves and bears. In late June, it exposed how Alaska Department of Fish & Game killed 94 brown bears (including cubs), five black bears, and five wolves through aerial gunning from helicopters.
“State agencies that undermine federal wildlife protection policies should forfeit any federal support if they continue,” added Whitehouse. “As Minnesota has learned, Federal support of resource agencies is not an automatic pass-through.”