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Wetland, lake restoration among actions urged in new report

Minnesota politicians, environmental groups, business interests and others are digesting a new report on the future of the state's natural resources that is designed to guide public policy for years to come.

The report, 18 months in the works, addresses long-term trends that affect Minnesota's environment, making recommendations ranging from electric cars to wetlands restoration. The University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment carried out the project on behalf of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. Forty researchers from the University of Minnesota were involved, plus about another 50 from other places.

Folks are reading the 330-page report carefully because it was created at the behest of the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty; it is assumed that funding decisions will be influenced by its proposals.

A foundation going forward
"The recommendations in this report will serve as foundation for Minnesota's environment going forward," said Deb Swackhamer, interim director of the Institute on the Environment and the report's main author.

There are five categories of recommendations: integrated planning, critical land protection, land and water restoration, sustainable practices and economic incentives for sustainability.

Among the actions sought by the report is the restoration of wetlands, shallow lakes and other degraded lake and river habitat. Groups ranging from duck hunters to cabin owners have worried about wetland loss for decades; there is an economic value to restoring the habitat, as well as biodiversity and cultural history advantages.

The report identifies about 500 drained shallow lakes that could be restored. Funding will be sought for conservation easements, fish barriers and water control structures.

The importance of sustainability
Sustainability has become an important concept in environmental planning over the last several years, and the report spends a great deal of time on it. Among the topics addressed are sustainable forests, agriculture and water resources.

Drainage policy — always a hot topic in rural Minnesota — should be reviewed, the report says, as well as "actions to move water more slowly across and through the landscape to return to more natural conditions to reduce flooding, improve water quality, and improve biological diversity through habitat protection."

The report's authors recognized that sustainability initiatives sometimes need a financial boost from government to get started. As such, it asks for incentive programs for renewable energy programs, the so-called "green payments." Also guaranteed to get attention is a plan to convert the state's vehicle fleet to electric power.

"There are several things the Legislature can act on immediately," Swackhamer said. "We've given them the basics."

How much will this cost? The report, due to be released today, does not yet say — a final assessment of costs and benefits is due next month.

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