As Minnesotans start making plans for summer vacations, it’s inevitable that many of those plans will include visits to our state’s wooded northlands. Minnesota’s forests are one of our state’s longest-held treasures and for years, state lawmakers and private citizens have worked together to make sure these treasured resources remain for future generations. The fact that more than 100 years later, forests still dominate much of Minnesota’s landscape is testament to the good work we’ve done to protect these resources.
One of the programs paramount to this effort to preserve and restore forests is the State Forest Nursery System. Started in 1903, the program is rooted today in two state nurseries: General Andrews Nursery at Willow River and Badoura Nursery at Akeley. The mission of the nurseries is to produce trees of the highest genetic quality at an efficient price, and to make the products available to public and private landowners across the state.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources forestry division grows Minnesota-native conifers and deciduous trees at the nurseries. More than 6 million trees a year are provided to county, state and federal foresters, and private landowners through the Soil and Water Conservation Districts. To date, the DNR has distributed more than 1 billion trees, or 190 trees planted for every man, woman and child living in Minnesota today.
Beyond providing valuable, renewable resources to our state, the nurseries also support our economy. About 80 people are employed seasonally at each nursery to help distribute plants in the spring, and to lift the trees in the fall before the ground freezes. In addition, Minnesota citizens have the opportunity to collect seeds and cones and return them to the DNR for cash value. These become the seeds that nurseries use to develop the native seedlings that are planted around the state.
These locally collected seeds are important because they develop into trees that are genetically conditioned to withstand Minnesota’s unique climate and resist local diseases. Today, the two state nurseries are the only place in Minnesota to obtain bare-root, certified native seed stock at a reasonable price. It’s the surest way to ensure the seedlings will develop into mature trees and do the job intended: Replenish state forests and sustain Minnesota’s rich outdoor heritage.
The nurseries are entirely self-supporting. This means that virtually no tax dollars are needed to support either nursery. Despite this fact, this vital program is eliminated in the Republican proposal to solve the state’s $5 billion budget deficit.
The move makes no sense. Closing the state nurseries would jeopardize responsible forestation efforts in our state, it would do very little to solve the budget problems, and it actually could end up costing the state money. The DNR just received a $2 million federal grant for a cost-share program to encourage tree plantings. To obtain the funds, the federal government requires certified local seed stock be used – a resource that won’t exist if the state nurseries are eliminated. Shutting down the nurseries now would forfeit $2 million for private landowners to replant trees and improve our state’s environment.
There is a lot of talk about streamlining government at the State Capitol these days, and I don’t disagree with that mission. But the Republican party has been in control of the legislature for just four short months, and already they are sweeping away some of the programs that are most essential to Minnesota’s way of life. This is not “streamlining” Minnesota; this is destroying Minnesota.
There are things our state government does very well, and the conservation efforts supported by the state nurseries are a prime example. Unfortunately, these stories are getting lost in the aggressive march to slash government functions. This type of irresponsible leadership will do nothing to solve Minnesota’s budget troubles, and it will do nothing to preserve and enhance our state’s resources for the future.