Minnesota Timber Practices Draw Sharp Federal Scrutiny

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023
Chandra Rosenthal (303) 898-0798
Martha Minchak (218) 628-3462 
Tim Whitehouse (240) 247-0299 

Minnesota Timber Practices Draw Sharp Federal Scrutiny

Joint Inspections of Logging in Wildlife and Aquatic Management Areas


Washington, DC —In the wake of a decision to withhold millions in federal wildlife grants due to excessive timber harvesting, this week top state and federal officials are inspecting some of the hardest hit areas, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The visits will assess whether the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is living up to promises it made in its grant application and complying with federal environmental laws.

Under the latest joint agreement between DNR and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) the “the first joint monitoring visit will occur before August 31, 2023” and include the Mille Lacs and Whitewater River Wildlife Management Areas. Several federal and state officials, including DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, will attend these onsite reviews.

Earlier this year, DNR admitted to violating federal law in conducting timber operations in these and other sensitive wildlife areas. The crux of the conflict is the Commissioner’s reliance upon a computer model, inaptly named the “Sustainable Timber Harvest Analysis”, that is designed to maximize timber harvest. In so doing, DNR overrode the objections of its own fish and wildlife specialists. At the same time, DNR obtained and is applying for more federal funding to enhance the same wildlife and aquatic habitats that are being threatened or destroyed by overharvesting.

“DNR needs to get off computer autopilot and start relying upon its own resource experts,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, noting these federal funds account for around 12% of DNR’s total budget. “Minnesota is the only state in the country of which we know whose resource management is so poor as to put its federal wildlife aid into jeopardy.”

A major focus of this week’s inspections will be to determine if local wildlife managers have regained control of forest harvests within wildlife and aquatic management areas. Previously, DNR forestry officials could override resource staff objections. DNR now has to show that its timber operations have demonstrated wildlife benefits and no significant wildlife detriments.

In 2019, 28 retired DNR wildlife managers flagged these very issues in an open letter to the Commissioner. In a commentary released this week, six of those managers repeated their concerns and expressed hope that the FWS actions would spark some sorely needed changes.

“The Commissioner’s Office has refused to make ANY changes to their timber harvest plan since it began five years ago,” said Martha Minchak, one of the retirees. decrying DNR’s “one-size-fits-all” approach to land management. “From what we can see, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wishes to enforce the law, for the sake of the habitat. It would be nice if the DNR showed that same concern for the natural resources they have been entrusted to manage.”


Read DNR retirees’ statement

See the latest FWS/DNR agreement

Revisit FWS recent decision to withhold federal money

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