Call me ‘green Pawlenty’

On Monday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed an expansion of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which many credit for the environmental improvement of the Minnesota River Valley. The program buys long-term or permanent easements to farm acreage surrounding environmentally sensitive waterways. Farmers then return the land to native grasses and trees. We think the proposal is truly a win-win situation for all involved.

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is a joint effort between federal, state and local governments. The United States Department of Agriculture will review the governor’s proposal to set aside 42,500 acres in the Red River Watershed in the northwest, 42,500 acres in the Lower Mississippi Watershed in the southeast and 15,000 acres in the Missouri River Watershed in southwest Minnesota. Upon their approval, farmers can sign up to set their land aside in return for compensation.

The idea seems positive for everyone involved. Farmers can choose to set their land aside and if they do, the program will compensate them fairly. Furthermore, many farmers contend the land in question is only marginally productive. The state as a whole gets better water quality as well as improved wildlife conditions, while covering only a fifth of the costs because the federal government covers the rest.

Support from farmers, environmentalists, conservationists and sportsmen illustrate the program’s widespread appeal. The state would have to spend $46 million to get $200 million in federal funds, which Pawlenty wants to do through bonding in 2004 and 2006. This is a reasonable, if not small, price to pay for the benefits to the state.

Some groups have objected, wanting more options for the farming community, and others contend the Pawlenty administration needs to do more than just the expansion to help the environment. We think the idea is fair to farmers and we agree the state can, and hopefully will, do more to protect Minnesota’s natural resources. We hope the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is only one of many environmental programs Pawlenty’s administration will propose or continue.