ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A large private landowner posted "Keep Out" signs barring motorized access to popular hunting and snowmobiling grounds in northern Minnesota in retaliation for losing most of a state tax break for keeping the land open.
Hattiesburg, Miss.-based Molpus Woodlands Group blocked motorized access to 128,000 acres, mostly in northern St. Louis County, just as grouse and deer hunting seasons are approaching, the Duluth News Tribune reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/RjQpQq ). The closure also could affect hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails that cross the company's land.
"This is a direct result of the loss of tax incentives," Craig Halla, the company's Minnesota property manager, told the newspaper. "It's very difficult to manage this land based just on the timber sales revenues now with prices so low and still paying taxes. If we want to keep the land in production and open to public access, there has to be another source of revenue."
Molpus saw its annual tax break for sustainable forestry cut from more than $2 million to $100,000 after the state capped payments for the program. The change was made in 2010, when Democrats controlled the Legislature and Republican Tim Pawlenty was governor, and continued last year with Republicans in charge of the Legislature and Democrat Mark Dayton as governor.
Wayne Brandt, an executive with the Minnesota Timber Producers and Forest Industries groups, said large landowners are more sensitive to property taxes because timber sells for less than half of its price six years ago, and the landowners have costs to maintain roads and trails.
State Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said he is trying to get Molpus to reopen its land, but the state can't do much until the Legislature convenes in January.
"This is bigger than just deer hunting," Dill said. "If those snowmobile trails don't open, they will just go somewhere else. It's a big hit to the economy."
Molpus is a land investment company that owns 286,000 acres of Minnesota forest, including old Boise Cascade Co. holdings it bought in July. About 128,000 acres were enrolled in the Sustainable Forestry Incentives Act program.
One hunter said the "Keep Out" sign won't stop him from crossing Molpus land to get to his 40-acre parcel, including a deer hunting shack, northeast of Orr.
"I've been driving down that road for 25 years and I'm not going to stop now," said Mike Felix of Grand Rapids.
Information from: Duluth News Tribune, http://www.duluthsuperior.com
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.