The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is withholding more than $20 million in conservation grants over concerns the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is allowing logging in sensitive wildlife habitat.
The department has acknowledged that it sold logging permits “without providing the necessary advance documentation of the habitat purpose of the sales,” according to a letter from acting FWS regional director Charles Traxler to DNR commissioner Sarah Strommen.
At issue are timber sales on publicly owned wildlife management areas and aquatic management areas. The withheld conservation grants stipulate that any logging in those areas must be done primarily to improve wildlife habitat. The grants are funded in large part by license fees paid by Minnesota hunters and fishers.
Experts within and outside the agency have alleged that recent DNR forestry decisions have prioritized commercial timber industry interests over wildlife, conservation, climate and other needs.
“We applaud this action by the Fish and Wildlife Service. U.S. taxpayers should not subsidize Minnesota’s backward and destructive logging practices,” said Tim Whitehouse, executive director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “It is outrageous that the Department of Natural Resources was using habitat restoration funds that would degrade the very habitats they were supposed to enhance.”
In a joint statement, the DNR and Fish & Wildlife said that “grant funds will be released and timber sales for habitat purposes on WMAs and AMAs will resume once we reach agreement [on documentation issues], which is expected in the coming months.”
The agency annually sells 870,000 cords of publicly-owned timber to the private forest products industry, which uses it to make paper, wood products and other goods. Roughly 12% of that timber is harvested from state wildlife management areas. By law, any timber harvest in those areas must be done primarily to improve wildlife habitat.