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Two wildlife management areas to expand in state

When two upcoming DNR land purchases are completed, Wadena County will see the expansion of two state wildlife management areas in its northern third.

At their Aug. 7 board meeting, Wadena County Commissioners approved two sales of private land to the DNR that could please hunters and nature lovers distressed over the loss of access to Potlatch forest land in recent years. One of the new DNR tracts of land is in Meadow Township, while the other is in Bullard Township.

Rob Naplin, from the Park Rapids DNR office, and Gary Drotts, DNR area wildlife manager based in Brainerd, appeared before the county board to request approval of the two land sales.

The Yaeger Lake WMA will be increased by about 286 acres, and the Dry Sand WMA will increase by 80 acres. The land is being sold by private landowners who want their wooded land to remain free of development and be managed by DNR professionals.

Naplin and Drotts told the board the property taxes paid to the county by the landowners will be more than offset by PILT payments from the state. "PILT" stands for "Payment In Lieu of Property Taxes." PILT payments are amounts of money paid by the state to counties, townships and school districts to replace the tax money these units of local government lose when private land becomes public land and is taken off the property tax rolls.

For example, the taxes due for 2012 on the 86-acre parcel were about $1,460. The PILT payment will be about $2,200.

In 2012, Wadena County will receive a total of $62,156 from the Minnesota Department of Revenue under the Public Hunting and Game Refuge Law Provisions (Minnesota Statutes 97A.061, Subd.2) and the Natural Resources Land PILT Payment Law Provisions (Minnesota Statutes 477A.14), for private land in the county that has become public land.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, who serves on the Minnesota Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, attended the meeting.

"I was invited to come, and I'm trying to understand the PILT system," Gazelka said.  "I wasn't aware that the PILT payment was higher" (than the property tax payment due on the land).

"If we go with PILT, we're going to make money for our county and help our citizens," Commissioner Lane Waldahl said.

Commissioner Dave Hillukka added that the county needs private land ownership.

"A house on a 40-acre parcel means roads, jobs and economic activity," he said.

Waldahl said he is not in favor of the county telling a landowner that he can't sell his land to the state if he wants to. 

"I think this [286-acre] property is probably too much for one person to handle.  I think the DNR would probably be the best steward of this land in the long run," Commissioner Bill Stearns said.

The votes to approve the land sales were unanimous.