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Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment: Whose legacy is it?

A generation ago, Pheasants Forever was but a dream of a young newspaper outdoors columnist named Dennis Anderson, who launched the organization to rally outdoorsmen to protect bird habitat from encroaching urbanization and agricultural use. Today, it’s a formidable entity with $43 million in annual revenue and 125,000 members (27,000 of them in Minnesota) in 600 chapters in the United States and Canada. Nearly half of its revenue comes from government sources.

Of late, the White Bear Lake-based nonprofit has taken on a more decisive role—buying hundreds of acres of land each year to keep it perpetually out of the hands of developers and agribusiness. Enabling it to do so is more than $45 million generated through taxes, dollars appropriated each year through Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment since its passage in 2008. In fact, Pheasants Forever receives more Legacy support than any other nonprofit program.

Why, and how, pheasant habitat protection has become the biggest private purpose of an amendment designed to sustain the state’s legacy helps illustrate significant questions and concerns about how the $7.5 billion it is raising is being managed. And it raises the question: Whose legacy will taxpayers really end up supporting?

Legacy’s landslide popularity

The Legacy Amendment? If the name doesn’t resonate, you probably voted for it nonetheless. Six years ago, as a wicked recession stormed in and opposition to tax increases was rising, Minnesota voters chose, by a 56-39 margin, to write a 25-year tax increase into the state’s constitution. That decision raised the state’s sales tax by three-eighths of a cent to 6.88 percent. The regressive nature of the sales tax didn’t get much attention during the amendment campaign, but this tax hits lower-income households harder than taxes on property and income, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Legacy revenue, pouring in at a rate of about $300 million a year ($7.5 billion over its life), is dedicated to clean water, the arts and cultural scene, parks and trails, and outdoor habitat. There’s no single river through which the revenue flows, no agency in charge. Four complex and overlapping funding structures—with a host of citizen boards and review panels—divvy up Legacy money for each of the four funding pots. The appropriations process is opaque. The Legacy website is incomplete and infrequently updated.

The Outdoor Heritage and Clean Water funds each get 33 percent of the money. The Arts & Cultural Heritage fund gets 20 percent. The Parks & Trails fund gets 14 percent. (See the supplemental information to learn more about each individual fund.)

Five years in, many question whether Legacy spending is living up to the promises of those who pushed the amendment and benefit from its largesse. In an audit released late in 2011, the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) raised numerous concerns around the Legacy funding process and its governance. OLA did not uncover major abuses, but concluded that “for most people the ultimate concern is whether Legacy money is used to achieve the outcomes proposed in the Legacy Amendment.”

Rep. Rick Hansen, a DFL legislator from South St. Paul, is among those calling for more monitoring of Legacy funding practices and outcomes. The House Republican leadership kicked him off the Outdoor Heritage Council in 2011 after he questioned the council’s emphasis on land acquisition, voting against certain purchases and proposing more effort be focused on improvements to existing public lands. Last year, with the DFL back in control of the Legislature, he was reappointed. Hansen, perceived by outdoor heritage interests as a maverick, thinks the council focuses too much on land acquisition and should spend more restoring and enhancing land already owned by the state.

Minnesota: A growing landowner

Land purchases have become a source of ongoing tension in much of northern Minnesota, where large public holdings limit development and depress property tax revenue. State government owns at least 17 percent of land in Minnesota (some estimates place it as high as 25 percent), ranking fourth among states in total acreage, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Now it is bringing more land under public ownership thanks to Legacy acquisitions. Under the Outdoor Heritage Council’s 25-year plan, as many as 1.5 million acres could be publicly acquired (for all types of preservation and restoration purposes) with Legacy dollars if the fund’s current trajectory is maintained. This translates into about 2,300 square miles, or nearly four-fifths the acreage of the seven-county metro area.

Local government is concerned. Thirteen counties have already approved “no net gain” public land resolutions, some before the amendment passed. These declarations are only advisory, but they are a measure of the opposition to land sales that lead to yet more public ownership.

“The Legislature needs to ask tough questions because this is a large chunk of change,” Hansen says of Legacy funding. “It’s a question of outcomes. What are we getting for that money?”

Hansen is a member of Pheasants Forever and several other outdoors groups, but thinks some of the Outdoor Heritage Council’s most passionate backers, including Dennis Anderson, have too much influence at the council. “There has been a band-of-brothers philosophy that those who worked on the Legacy campaign,” he says, “are entitled to the fruits of the campaign.”

Pheasants’ members function almost as real estate brokers in connecting their organization with private owners willing to sell their land, says Garry Leaf, executive director of the advocacy group Sportsmen for Change, which backs the council and its grants to Pheasants and similar conservation organizations.

Pheasants spokesman Rehan Nana says the organization saw an opportunity to permanently protect habitats for wildlife. Pheasants has used two-thirds of its Legacy money for these purchases (the other third goes to restoring habitat). Pheasants defenders say its outsize role in handling Outdoor Heritage funds is largely due to its initial preparedness to take action with them. Bill Becker, executive director of the Outdoor Heritage Council, says Pheasants had already developed the capacity to engage in land deals and had projects ready when the amendment’s funds began to flow.

Pheasants conveys all of this land to the DNR or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Minnesota county officials worry about the tax impact of these deals. Counties have received payments in lieu of taxes for state-owned land for many years. But thus far, legal concerns have kept the state from using Legacy funds for land stripped from the tax rolls after it was acquired with Legacy money.

An easy billion

To get a sense of whether Legacy is delivering on its promises, TCB looked at more than 7,000 Legacy grants and appropriations among the $1.015 billion distributed in the first four years of the amendment’s life, interviewed more than 50 key stakeholders, and sifted through countless reports and articles. While departments of state government are Legacy’s main beneficiaries, parts of the nonprofit sector are awash in new funding.

Pheasants excels at securing grants from Minnesota’s Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which is funded through the Legacy Amendment. All told, it won $45.5 million in Legacy money during the period—roughly a seventh of all Legacy funds going to private interests.

The next largest recipient is the Minnesota Historical Society, at $19.9 million, followed by the Nature Conservancy at $19.6 million. But this is small potatoes compared to the dollars flowing to state government. (The Legacy statute requires its tax receipts to be dedicated to new programs and initiatives, even dollars that are routed to state agencies. But in their hands, Legacy dollars have become hard to trace. See “An auditor’s nightmare” sidebar.) Minnesota’s DNR is the hands-down biggest recipient, with more than $401 million in new money during Legacy’s first two biennia. And Legacy funding means the State Arts Board has the highest per capita spending in the United States, projected at $6.36 per person for 2014.

Backers argue this spending has made the state significantly more competitive economically. “What Minnesota did is one of the best investments in our economy we could have made,” says Peggy Ladner, executive director of the Nature Conservancy’s Minnesota operations. “It has everything to do with our business climate—our land, our water and our quality of life. These are what attract talented people.”

Yet interviews conducted by the Civic Caucus with a parade of business climate watchers last year show nary a mention of the Legacy Amendment as a factor in attracting or keeping business. Quality of life gets attention, but factors like education and workforce quality, regulation, taxes and support for entrepreneurs turn up as the primary concerns. (The caucus is a public affairs group; interviews are posted on its site,

Fighting for funds rather than outcomes

A few years before voters passed the amendment, the Minnesota Taxpayers Association (now called the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence) issued a prescient warning. Sensing correctly that billions of dollars in state taxes were about to be set aside as untouchable for years, in 2006 it examined research and reporting on a similar amendment in Missouri. Its analysis concluded that while the causes might be worthy, so are causes repeatedly subjected to annual scrutiny by state legislators; dedicating state funds for Legacy-like causes would strip the state of its ability to reset priorities, the association noted. Others say that fencing off so much tax money for Legacy causes for so many years limits state budget flexibility and ultimately steers dollars away from education, transportation, disaster relief and other public causes. For example, $10 million buys annual pay and benefits for 143 teachers or 6.7 miles of two-lane rural highway, according to the Minnesota House research office. But Legacy is a money spigot that can’t be diverted or turned off.

Minnesota voters shrugged off that and other concerns, thanks largely to the remarkably savvy campaign for the amendment. Veteran political hand Ken Martin, now chair of the DFL Party, led the drive. Two major pro-amendment groups raised $4.1 million in 2008, 32 times the amount raised by the amendment’s only major opponent. The strategy focused on the importance of restoring and maintaining the integrity of Minnesota’s water. Days after the election, a poll taken by Lake Research Partners for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership found that 42 percent of registered voters who backed the amendment cited “cleaning up and protecting Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams” as the primary single reason for their vote. Other causes were cited by only 27 percent combined.

From the beginning there have been catfights in the Legislature over how to distribute Legacy proceeds. Last year the battles over appropriations got so rugged that Gov. Mark Dayton declared that he has “rarely seen the acrimony and distrust” stirred up in the 13 legislative sessions he’s participated in. The further we get from 2009, “the more the bloodletting,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr told TCB.

Some of the state’s strongest advocates for clean water, like former Senate Finance Committee chair Gene Merriam, worry that Legacy funding won’t do nearly enough to guarantee cleaner water. Merriam, who was also a DNR commissioner, says that although taxpayers spent more than a billion dollars to clean up the Minnesota River in the last three decades, government agencies couldn’t show the money led to cleaner water. “I don’t regret that the Legacy Amendment passed,” Merriam says. “My chief concern is that it won’t be as beneficial as it should be.”

And in the end, it might not be easy to prove. In 2001, Dennis Anderson wrote a series for the Star Tribune, where he has been the outdoors columnist since 1993, hailing the virtues of a dedicated funding scheme that set aside millions of sales tax dollars for conservation causes in Missouri. The Taxpayers Association’s 2006 analysis found that even as dedicated money rolled in for various conservation-related initiatives, core state services were being slashed. Something similar has been happening in Minnesota, recalling the budget crises of 2008-09, where state finances were squeezed just as Legacy dollars began flowing in.

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles’ analysis of Legacy grants and procedures raised numerous red flags (see sidebar), most notably a lack of clarity on how to measure results. The state’s audit concludes that for most Minnesotans, the ultimate issue is whether Legacy money is used to achieve the outcomes proposed in the amendment.

The question looms large, and thus far, there is little to point to. “There should be a high standard for how we program these funds,” says McKnight Foundation president Kate Wolford, “so that in the end, we can say, ‘Wow, we did the right things.’ ”

For more on the Legacy Amendment Investigation see the following supplemental information:

Legacy’s power players

The Columnist > Dennis Anderson 
Friends and foes see crusading Star Tribune outdoors columnist Anderson as the voice of the orange. Insiders say his persistent advocacy was influential in Legacy’s passage. He began writing columns in 1980, and in 1982 founded Pheasants Forever, easily the top nonprofit beneficiary of Legacy money. Nearly all Minnesota’s dailies, including Anderson’s, editorialized against the amendment; virtually all of their outdoors columnists, including Anderson, backed it.

The Arts Guy > Dick Cohen 
Senate Finance Committee Chair Dick Cohen is credited with brokering the deal that brought the arts and heritage sector to the Legacy Amendment’s partnership. He’s the state’s ultimate arts advocate, using Legacy funding to catapult Minnesota to first among states in per capita arts funding. And because the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund has some of the loosest change in the Legacy pot, Cohen is under constant lobbying pressure to allocate money to causes.

The Diplomat > David Hartwell 
A life-long conservationist, David Hartwell is the citizen-chair of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. In his day job he’s president of Bellcomb Technologies, a New Hope-based manufacturer of honeycomb panels used for office systems. He attempts to guide dueling factions to make orderly funding recommendations for the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

The Troublemaker > Phyllis Kahn 
Representative Phyllis Kahn’s Minneapolis House district flanks the Mississippi. As chair of the House Legacy Committee, she’s an outspoken critic of the priorities of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. Kahn wants more money for the metro area, so she made sure last year’s House bill grabbed more Legacy dollars for it. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the changes, and the Democrats’ spat made headlines. “He’s the only governor who’s ever hung up on me,” Kahn told TCB.

The Boss > Tom Landwehr 
Tom Landwehr returned to the Department of Natural Resources in 2011 to lead the agency of about 2,800 employees. A sportsman, Landwehr is the consummate insider, with 17 years at the DNR as a biologist and wildlife manager. He spent 12 years in management at Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy. The DNR is the crossroads for about 40 percent of all Legacy dollars. That puts Landwehr at the junction of a litany of debates about how to spend Legacy money.

The Watchdog > Jim Nobles 
Jim Nobles was just appointed to his sixth six-year term as Minnesota’s legislative auditor. Public affairs aficionados dub him the state’s most enduring and credible watchdog. Known for his cool demeanor and low profile, he and his staff have uncovered a staggering array of questionable practices over years of monitoring state government. So far, OLA has done one major audit of Legacy policies and practices, plus at least seven smaller ones. Expect many more.

Parks and Trails Fund

Metro/outstate battle lines drawn

The Legacy Amendment’s language for this fund states that the money may only be spent “to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance,” considerably looser language than for the Clean Water or Outdoor Heritage funds. As a result, watchdogs think these funds could be spent on deferred maintenance or other projects that would previously have been financed through traditional funding sources and programs.

Last year saw tense meetings of a committee set up to establish sharing percentages among statewide, rural and metropolitan interests. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said that reaching agreement on the fund’s 40-20-40 split “nearly caused a meltdown” due to acrimony among the groups. One reason? Brian Rice, general counsel and lobbyist for the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, has been an unstinting advocate for a larger metro share of this pot.

Audit: Key problems

The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) suggested that nongovernment individuals and groups need more opportunities to advise the DNR and Metropolitan Council about Legacy grants the two agencies are making. OLA cited a concern that agencies spend too much Legacy money operating and maintaining existing parks and trails, and not enough on meaningful enhancements.

Outdoor Heritage Fund

Public ownership of ever more land

By far the easiest of the funds to describe from a “follow the money” perspective, the Outdoor Heritage Fund is overseen by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, a 12-member group of eight citizen-appointees and four legislators.

The council meets about once a month to develop funding priorities and review and select proposals to recommend to the Legislature. Appropriations include land and easement purchases, and many kinds of habitat protection and restoration projects. Asked what exemplary projects are possible because of the influx of funding, supporters cite a $36 million Legacy grant that helped purchase perpetual conservation easements on 187,000 acres of intact forest and wetland ecosystem along the Upper Mississippi.

Legacy backers argue that the council’s use of Legacy money to buy or set aside land owned by private landowners has lessened acreage vulnerable to patchwork development. But the strategy has renewed long-standing tensions over Minnesota’s large amount of tax-exempt land, as organizations like Pheasants Forever purchase acreage and convey it to state and federal agencies for perpetual preservation (see main story).

Case in point—in 2011, UPM Blandin, the Finnish transnational that owns the Blandin Paper Co., jolted assessors in four northern Minnesota counties when it launched challenges of their valuations for its extensive property holdings. Blandin cites Legacy-funded conservation easements as part of its claim for a reduced valuation. Blandin paid $1.43 million in property taxes to Itasca County governments on the parcels at issue in 2011, according to county tax records. If its appeal succeeds, county officials estimate local governments would lose up to $3.53 million in 2011-’13 property taxes, plus continuing hits in the years ahead. A Minnesota Tax Court decision is pending.

The Lessard-Sams Council was the arena for a dustup during the 2013 legislative session. The dispute pitted metro legislators, particularly Minneapolis DFLer Phyllis Kahn, against council members. The vast majority of Outdoor Heritage dollars flow to Greater Minnesota, but metro legislators want a bigger piece of the pie. When legislators modified the council’s recommendations, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the changes. Since then, the council has recommended several new metro restoration and enhancement projects for funding in 2014.

Audit: Key Problems

The 2011 Legislative Auditor’s report suggested the state might not have the resources to manage the land it already owns. “We think that using money from the Outdoor Heritage Fund to purchase land will remain an ongoing concern,’’ OLA warned. To solve the tax starvation concern, legislators have proposed that Legacy funds be tapped for payments to local governments in lieu of taxes. Addressing counties’ concerns about losing property taxes when Legacy-acquired land falls off tax rolls, the audit noted that Deputy Attorney General Christie Eller has warned the Outdoor Heritage Council that doing so might not be legal.

Clean Water Fund

Programs without outcomes?

Legacy’s Clean Water Fund was voters’ highest priority and is bringing new money to one of Minnesota’s most vexing challenges: how to make the state’s rivers, lakes and streams as clean as clean can be. The money goes entirely to government agencies, some of which re-grant it to cities, counties, and watershed districts, sometimes in partnership with nonprofits. Six state agencies, the Met Council and the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center propose funding allocations to the governor, who sets priorities in his annual budget proposal.

A 19-member Clean Water Council is advisory, with no funding role. Grants can be difficult to track, since they are spread across multiple agencies and often combined with non-Legacy funds.

Tension points are numerous. Critics say outcomes should be stressed, since it’s possible to measure whether water is cleaner. And the fund’s emphasis on government frustrates officials at nonprofits, who think they can accomplish more, at a lower cost, than their public counterparts can.

Audit: Key Problems

Some environmental organizations and legislators worry that money won’t go to the projects most likely to lead to significantly better water quality. OLA vetted the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy’s review of 123 grants (some of them Legacy grants) made by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) and couldn’t find “measurable progress” in reaching water quality goals. BWSR’s then-assistant director Julie Blackburn was quoted in the Star Tribune saying, “Legacy money is coming in faster than the data needed to identify projects that provide the biggest bang for the buck.” OLA also found a need to focus on moving beyond testing and data collection toward actions that mitigate and prevent water contamination.

An auditor’s nightmare

Auditing the effectiveness and integrity of the Legacy Amendment is proving difficult.

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles’ audit of the four Legacy funds identified major issues likely to remain ongoing concerns. They raise “complex questions without easy answers,” says Nobles, who says his ultimate concern is whether Legacy money is being used to achieve the outcomes codified in the Amendment.

Consider the language of the amendment itself, which says Legacy money “must supplement traditional sources of funding . . . and may not be used as a substitute.” Times got tougher in the recessionary years that swept in just as Legacy dollars began flowing. That motivated state agencies to seek Legacy funds to patch existing programs. Nobles declined to draw a bright line on this. Instead, he recommended that the Legislature “establish a process that legislators could use” to do so.

The issue is crucial because it strikes at the heart of the Legacy tax’s ability to create the outcomes voters were promised. “Nobles really let us down,” says Outdoor Heritage Council chair David Hartwell. Also unhappy is retired legislator Gene Merriam, who serves on the Clean Water Council. Merriam argues that many Legacy grant-seekers have an “institutional imperative” to tap Legacy money to protect existing programs.

Monitoring another concern, conflicts of interest, is freighted with controversy because of deep disagreements over what constitutes a conflict. The audit noted two Star Tribune stories about Pheasants Forever: Scott Rall, president of a Pheasants chapter, voted for millions in Legacy grants to Pheasants projects as a member of the Outdoor Heritage Council, which approved the grants. And Ron Schara, on-air host and executive producer of a weekly Pheasants Forever TV show, was named to the council and voted on Pheasants grants.

Twin Cities BusinessCouncil officials deny conflicts. Nobles raised the issue broadly, but declined to ”assess concerns about individuals.”

The auditor also expressed concern over state government’s ability to measure how much administrative cost to assign to Legacy, leaving the efficiency of the various funds up for debate. The Legislature has sought to limit Legacy administrative expense, but state agencies have told legislators their guidelines are confusing.

Dave Beal is a retired business editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a longtime Twin Cities business journalist and a regular TCB contributor. Sarah Lutman is a consultant to nonprofits who covers philanthropy and the nonprofit sector for TCB and authors our monthly Performing Philanthropy column.

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 02/05/2014 - 09:58 am.


    I’m actually fine with land acquisition as a priority. It’s the truly long-range vision — we can always improve it in various ways once we have it, but once it’s developed, it’s gone forever. If sitting on the land prevents low-density outposts and subdivisions all the better. If outstate Minnesota needs more tax revenue, they should try to build their towns.

  2. Submitted by Hal Davis on 02/05/2014 - 11:59 am.

    Fine, but…

    This is an excellent report on whether the Legacy Amendment’s permanent spigot is working as it should. Politics usually decides who gets what, but a permanent funding mechanism may distort priorities.

    In that vein, one passage in the report deserves more exploration:

    “In 2001, Dennis Anderson wrote a series for the Star Tribune, where he has been the outdoors columnist since 1993, hailing the virtues of a dedicated funding scheme that set aside millions of sales tax dollars for conservation causes in Missouri. The Taxpayers Association’s 2006 analysis found that even as dedicated money rolled in for various conservation-related initiatives, core state services were being slashed. Something similar has been happening in Minnesota, recalling the budget crises of 2008-09, where state finances were squeezed just as Legacy dollars began flowing in.”

    Is that still the case? If so, which core services have been slashed in Minnesota?

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/05/2014 - 12:11 pm.


    Not even a native species, in fact for a while in the 40s and 50s they were an invasive species.

    I think we have to carefully consider the function of our criticism here. The idea of the legacy amendment was good, and over all I don’t think we should regret passing it. The Taxpayers League never a tax it didn’t like so their “assessment” should always be taken with a spoonful of salt. In other words, let’s not turn this into a no new taxes repeal initiative. We can tighten this up and address whatever concerns are raised. I have no problem re-directing money, especially away from TPT who continues air anti-tax financial analysis and advisers while raking in tax revenue derived subsidies.

    The business community have no one but themselves and their allegiance to Republican no new tax pledges to blame for whatever legacy money that have no access to now.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 02/05/2014 - 05:28 pm.

      Outcome is the same

      I don’t care about pheasants, but I do care about land. Hunters are more of an ally of other outdoors users than we all might expect. At the end of the day, whether you want to hunt pheasants or hike or mountain bike or ski or whatever, you need undeveloped land set aside.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/05/2014 - 12:17 pm.

    Thanks Hal…

    I was going to point out that this was all taking place in the context of “small” government budget cuts that created serial budget deficits created via magic tax cuts that were supposed to “increase” revenue. Of course agencies would use money to replace funding that was cut. It makes to sense to add facilities if you can’t afford to maintain what you already have. If the Taxpayers League had their way the trails would have been shut down for lack of maintenance.

  5. Submitted by jody rooney on 02/05/2014 - 01:28 pm.

    I’ve always enjoyed the fact that pheasants were not

    native species. It generally quelled the argument that “non native” wild horses should be culled from the landscape.

    This is an excellent article. Continuing to move land from local tax bases is not a good idea. Mr. Klein’s arrogant comment is clearly made from possibly complete ignorance of the issues that face Greater Minnesota. where state, federal and tax forfeit land can make up the majority of the land in a county. When the land is acquired by the public it reduces the opportunity for businesses to develop because it reduces availability of land for the population to grow.

    While the population lives in the cities it goes to the rural areas to recreate if it can afford to. And some of the folks that go are darn cheap not spending much in the local community. Just look at the trail users data report.

    I think monitoring the outcomes of expenditures is a great idea, Just buying more land to increase the habitat for a non native species would seem a bit low on the totem poll. Increasing prairie chicken habitat would be a bit different.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/05/2014 - 09:00 pm.

      This is why habitat preservation should be left to

      The professionals. Do you think that the only animals using these acres are pheasants? The goal of habitat preservation is creating as many contiguous areas of undisturbed acreage as possible to as closely resemble the native landscape as we can. There is a reason the “patchwork” approach is undesirable, it gives advantage to “edge” species (think deer, cowbirds, squirrels, basically all the overly abundant species in our “edge” dominated landscape) while leaving any actual habitat virtually useless to the species generally being managed for, something that expands to other avenues, like native plant species and insect life. I worked for a time with the Missouri Dept of Conservation, I was amazed at the scope of the research they conducted into non game species, how they were actually able fund projects that in states like ours would find their funding continually diverted towards the “moneymakers”, deer, walleyes, and parks. I think that for a lot of so-called conservationists, the real challenge should be to question what their inner motivations are, do they really want to protect the whole of the landscape, or do they want to create pretty postcard that can visit someday, to experience “nature”.
      On the economic issue, there are two choices. Will tax revenues in rural counties be hit now, perhaps a little harder, while ways to make money from outdoors activity are discovered, or will they be hit permanently as the landscape is irretrievably altered, and what will prove to be short lived ( as most investment in rural america tends to be) development plans come and go, leaving a no man’s land of useless space, unfit for man or beast.
      Does Pheasant’s Forever have a bias, of course. I personally don’t care for many of the sporting groups, mainly for what they’ve done to turn hunting and fishing into a hobby for the wealthy and a political football to divide what could otherwise be allied interests in the sporting and environmental communities. On this issue however the collateral benefits of their maneuvers is a net gain for the ecosystem, and as such are a productive use of the Legacy dollars.

      • Submitted by jody rooney on 02/06/2014 - 02:33 pm.

        Please don’t lecture about ecosystems to someone who very much

        understands the connection from professional experience. We are not all the dumb bunnies you make us out to be.

        Don’t be naive about purchasing land or managing it. Whenever you manage habitat it is to the advantage of some species and to the disadvantage of others. But it is a big state and there is a lot of land and there are better ways to do this.

        I got the lecture about impacts on neotropical migratories about 30 years ago at a meeting of the Corps Environmental Advisory Boards meeting. Should we be focusing on habitat for pheasants to the tune of $45,000,000 or on neotropical migratories?

        Frankly it is a lot easier to cut trees down then to grow them to old growth. My vote would be for neotropicals – the lecture was very effective.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/07/2014 - 09:30 am.


          Not a great deal of neotropical migratories using pheasant habitat. Lots of grassland songbirds though, and rodents, and small predators, and native plants and insects. Besides its not as if we are talking about the difference between old growth and logging here, the timescale is vastly different. What would otherwise be monocultured row crops can be transformed into native grassland in the span of a few years. You want to save forest, great, but we can do both and frankly prairie habitat, particularly prairie wetlands are far more imperiled. Not to mention they are far easier to fix.

          • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 02/11/2014 - 09:40 am.

            …and far more diverse.

            Don’t get me wrong…I love forests, but I grew up on the prairie in SW Minnesota. It’s a magnificent landscape, and we have the prairie to thank for the soil upon which we grow such abundant food.

            I have always found it somewhat amusing the desire to save a non-native species such as the pheasant. They don’t seem to be problematic, and they’re beautiful and tasty, but they are non-native all the same.

            As long as the work of PF creates habitat for our native species alongside pheasants, I don’t take too much issue with it, but I would rather the $45,000,000 be better distributed.

  6. Submitted by Tom Weyandt on 02/05/2014 - 04:13 pm.


    It is unfortunate that the authors of the article didn’t get any input from Pheasants Forever. One must wonder if the same would be true if the piece was about 3M, Cargill, or some other large company. It appears that the main research was simply to go back to a 3 year old report of the Legislative Auditor, which actually didn’t find any wrongdoing.

    As for one of the main thrusts of the article, the issue of removing land from the tax base, isn’t it accurate to point out that the State of Minnesota has failed to make the Payments in Lieu of Taxes for at least several years? That can’t be a valid argument against either the Legacy Amendment or Pheasants Forever.

    Perhaps MinnPost could take the time to check out some of the facts and see if PF has anything to add. Simply reposting a poorly researched and biased article requires some action to set the record at least a little more straight.

  7. Submitted by Tom van der Linden on 02/05/2014 - 06:29 pm.

    Not only pheasants

    Land set aside for “pheasants” can also support many imperiled prairie species. Remember that only 1%, or less, of Minnesota’s native prairie is still intact. Prairie acres will benefit the monarch butterfly, rare sparrows, prairie chickens, etc. And, restored prairie is exceptionally good at trapping rainwater, because of the deep roots prairie plants set.
    A good point made: how the land is managed? The DNR must be able to take care of the land it acquires.
    One last point. County commissioners will resent EVERY acre removed from the tax list, because they like to spend money too. That hardly proves there is too much government-owned land in Southwest and Western Minnesota.

  8. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/05/2014 - 06:43 pm.


    There are a lot of assumptions in this article, as well as those commenting on it. First, there is the assumption that turning private land into public land is necessarily a net loss. I agree that out state Minnesota shouldn’t be hurt by this amendment. However, I also believe that if out state governments are hurting for property taxes, it’s unlikely that it’s due to private land being made public. If the land was of enough value for a private buyer to purchase, it would have been purchased. But, since it ended up not being purchased by a private buyer, it’s unlikely that the land was of enough value to provide significant property tax revenue. If that’s not the case, then local governments need to do more to attract land buyers to such sales. An alternative is, of course, to do as Mr. Klein suggests and work harder to revive and/or grow smaller towns. There are only so many uses for rural property: development, farming, mining, and pure residential.

    Honestly, this article is very one sided. It would seem to me that there are definitely areas of spending from the Legacy Amendment that need review. However, I got the strong feeling that it was written from the point of view of people disappointed that the land is no longer cheaply available for profit. It just might be that we’re getting more out of this investment than we could have ever hoped for.

  9. Submitted by Seth Weeks on 02/06/2014 - 09:55 am.

    Pheasants Forever Response

    This article is a reprint of an article in Twin Cities Business magazine. Here’s the Pheasants Forever response from 2-days ago:

  10. Submitted by David Markle on 02/08/2014 - 12:38 pm.

    Problems with governmental granting agencies

    No doubt a very good argument has been made to support Pheasants Forever, outrageous as the degree of agency favoritism seems. The same may be true for other recipients of Legacy Amendment grants. The structure and process for making these grants is questionable.

    I warned against falling into the usual pattern of grant-giving in connection with the arts portion of the Fund, and offered to help set up something different. As I feared, however, legislators failed to perceive, much less come to grips with the underlying problem of riding roughshod over due process and equal protection.

    It’s so easy to set up a governmental or semi-governmental grant-giving board to make value judgments about specific potential recipients, Typically such a board and/or a panel of supposed experts (who may represent vested interests or have their own axes to grind) end up making invidious distinctions between similarly situated parties. Legislators don’t want to take the time to consider other methods that minimize such problems: and I don’t doubt that legislators themselves get lobbied by those vested interests and potential grantees, whether it’s Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, Artspace Inc. or some particular nonprofit organization that thinks it should have the inside track. During legislative hearings on the arts portion of the Legacy Amendment Fund, a spokesperson for one arts institution actually stated that the award of such a grant should serve as a [governmental] “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for subsequent private donors: a particularly harmful–one might say, fascist–philosophy But there are better ways to support public purposes. Governmental agencies should not operate like private foundations.

    During the Clinton administration, some rejected grant applicants sued the National Endowment for the Arts, and surprisingly, the administration entered into the fray. But the argument was based on the First Amendment right of free speech, and failure to get a grant proved to be no restriction of speech, hardly a form of censorship. Bad argument.

    Looking at the bigger picture, I wonder how the Roberts court would reason, in light of the dreadful Citizens United ruling. I’m not an attorney or constitutional law expert, but I suspect Citizens United was badly defended by the administration. It seems to me that money=speech flies in the face of equal protection and due process.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/08/2014 - 11:18 am.


    I didn’t mean to malign the poor pheasant or it’s defender Pheasants Forever, I was just making an observation. If you haven’t visited the link provided by Seth:… I strongly recommend you do so.

    I would question the decision to re-print a business journal article but what’s the point. I merely observe that the intellectual quality of our business community has degenerated into a silo of the Republican party. I hope they re-establish their integrity in future. Fortunately Minnpost has one of the “comment” sections in world where goofy content can be intelligently discussed. Despite the poor quality of this article, if you read the comments, you come away better informed.

    Mr. Markle, you imply there’s something wrong with the arts portion of the granting process but you don’t provide any information or examples. Apparently we’re just supposed to assume the process is corrupt or “bad” because that’s the way it always is. You’ll have to do better than sir.

    • Submitted by David Markle on 03/30/2014 - 10:43 am.

      What’s bad about the arts portion

      Would be happy to send Mr. Udstrand hard copy by USPS to help explain the problem. Some years ago I had a substantial piece on the generic subject printed in the Star Tribune. Someone who had served on one of the State Arts Board “artistic advisory” panels responded, defending his and his colleagues deliberations. He didn’t care to mention that he was the recipient of such grants. Many years prior to that, I got a bill introduced in the legislature to deal with the problem (it needed simplification, although it was highly regarded by the head of national Actors Equity and the Authors League [Dramatists Guild and Authors Guild] among others. Institutional interests opposed it; Kenneth Dayton himself lobbied against it but did not testify: most unforunate, because the bill was innovative but not anti-institutional. I guess Dayton didn’t like it because he served on the governing board of both the state arts agency and the National Endowment at the time.

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