The huge responsibility of bringing together the scattered interest groups of Minnesota’s environment lies with a 14-member council housed in a small office on the St. Paul campus.
The group of loggers, environmentalists, state employees and others that comprise the Minnesota Forest Resources Council have an office in the basement of the Natural Resources Administration Building — for now.
As a legislative review moves forward to either abolish or extend the council’s life, the council has come under scrutiny by environmental groups who argue the $1 million-a-year board should no longer be funded by the state.
The Legislature established the Minnesota Forest Resources Council to bring forest management groups together to ensure Minnesota forests are at a sustainable level. Critics say the council does little to move the state toward sustainability, while supporters say the council is accomplishing its objectives.
The state established the council to form guidelines for loggers. The guidelines were to incorporate the findings of the state’s $1 million environmental impact study, completed in 1993. The 6,000-page document, known as the Generic Environmental Impact Statement set recommendations for the harvesting of timber in Minnesota.
The Legislature allotted the council a four-year life, at the end of which — in June — legislators will evaluate its progress and decide whether to continue funding it.
The Audubon Society had supported the council each year, and even asked for increased funding in 1998, but this year it has asked the Legislature to abolish the council.
“The council is a smoke screen for real progress. It is one government experiment that has failed,” said Betsy Daub, forest program director for the Audubon Society.
Don Arnosti, Minnesota Director of the National Audubon Society, argued Wednesday before a legislative committee to end the council. Arnosti said the council has moved too slowly in its objectives and the guidelines it has published are too vague to promote sustainability in Minnesota forests.
Arnosti said the council’s recommendations for landowners say “Do whatever you like,” instead of “In order to protect forest resources, this is what you should do.”
Bridget Hust, formerly of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy said the council “watered down” the scientific information provided to meet political deals.
Hust worked on a team of environmentalists, loggers and scientists to give the board recommendations for its guidelines. Hust said her team’s recommendations were reviewed by scientists. However once the recommendations were given to the council, they were altered, and no scientific review of the final guidelines was made.
But council member Wayne Brandt, who is vice president of the Minnesota Forest Industries Association, told legislators a different story of the science used for the guidelines.
Brandt said the recommendations went beyond what was suggested in the initial environmental impact statement and the resulting guidelines are on the side of environmentalists rather than loggers.
Other supporters of the council pointed out the accomplishments in educating the state about forest sustainability.
Executive director of the council, Michael Kilgore, testified before the committee and pointed out the council’s accomplishments. The voluntary guidelines will soon be published and distributed to loggers and a sustainability education program for youth has begun.
Eric Mayranen, a logger and member of the Associated Contract Loggers said the board is doing what it was established to do: educate loggers.
“All through the process, either on public or private land, you have to educate the logger, and that takes money,” Mayranen said.