In need of some Christmas cheer? Try this: Minnesota outdoorsmen might gain access to an additional 2,285 acres of land.
The DNR is in the final stages of acquiring a parcel in Mille Lacs County that would provide hunting for deer, grouse, woodcock, pheasant and waterfowl. A public information meeting on the proposed acquisition, which would be the DNR's largest in almost 20 years, took place in Milaca on Dec. 20. About 40 people attended.
"The overall mood of the attendees was pro acquisition," said Dick Tuszynski, DNR area wildlife manager. "Especially the township officials who learned that the in-lieu of tax payments would be greater than what they would get under private ownership."
But the biggest supporter with the most at stake is the Minnesota Federation of Field Trial Clubs, which sponsors bird hunting contests for pointing dogs. For years the federation has sought state help in establishing a field trial ground. The Mille Lacs County parcel could be the answer, said Roger Berg, president of the federation.
"We don't fit in anywhere else," said Berg, whose group has used state parks and Camp Ripley for trials in the past. "State parks are managed in a way that disturbs the land as little as possible. WMA's are managed for wildlife. We need a separate area where they can say, 'You guys go over there.' This would be a nice partnership."
The parcel borders U.S. 169 and is 2.5 miles from the Mille Lacs Wildlife Management Area. Within its bounds are Burntland Brook, cutover forest in the early stages of succession, several small wetlands, beaver flowages and a large field cleared by a previous owner from Oklahoma who wanted to raise cattle. That plan never came to fruition. The present owner, Willard Rehbein, bought the land several years ago as an investment, Tuszynski said, but wanted to fill the wetlands and was ordered by the DNR to cease and desist. The opportunity to sell the land as a single tract prompted Rehbein to sell, Tuszynski said.
The purchase price won't be revealed until the deal is finalized. Dave Schad, DNR Region 3 wildlife supervisor, said the additional money allocated to the agency in the last legislative session made the acquisition possible.
Field trials test the abilities of pointing dogs to find game birds. A typical course is set along "edge cover" where woods meets field. For this reason some clearing and mowing on the new parcel might be required. Tuszynski said the large field could be divided with rows of trees so several trials could run at one time. But Berg said he doesn't think this would be necessary.
Field trials are incompatible with WMA rules if they take place during the spring nesting season or if horses are used. Therefore the new parcel, initially designated as a WMA, would eventually be leased to the DNR's Division of Parks and redesignated as a state recreation area. The Division of Parks cannnot buy the parcel because it doesn't have the money, Tuszynski said.
In an ideal world this would initiate the creation of a huge tract of public land. A tempting carrot in the form of 4,880 acres lies just 1.5 miles from the Rehbein property and is presently for sale. If joined together with several smaller, intervening lands, the two tracts would create an enormous, uninterrupted tract of public land in the heart of Minnesota. The DNR is aware of the possibilities, but Tuszynski said, "Our money, like everyone else's, only goes so far."
For now acquisition of the Rehbein property will do just fine.
"You get one shot at something like this," Berg said. "We best get enough acreage for today."
The new land is expected to be opened to the public in about a year and a half, Tuszynski said.
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