DNR MAP SHOWS the proposed Wildlife Management Area in Clearwater Twp. Yellow borders mark the parcels that make up the area, which is bisected by Hwy. 24 and the Clearwater River.

Wildlife area proposed in township

Staff Writer
Ken Francis


Clearwater Township may be soon getting a few hundred acres of wildlife preserve and public land.
During the monthly township supervisors meeting in October, Eran Sandquist of Pheasants Forever told the board of supervisors about a plan to purchase 615 acres that would eventually become a state Wildlife Management Area.
 Fred Bengston, area wildlife manager for the DNR, was also present to answer any questions about the process.
Sandquist said Pheasants Forever was approached by the Smith family, who own 615 acres, of which 440 acres are in Clearwater Twp. and the rest is in Stearns County. The property is divided by the Clearwater River.
“The land has been in their family for over 100 years,” said Sandquist. “They felt now was the time to protect the property permanently and asked  Pheasants Forever for help.”
Pheasants Forever has an opportunity to sign a purchase agreement to acquire the land. Sandquist said the organization would be using Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars to acquire the land with additional funds from private fundraising. The Heritage Fund is part of the Clean Water, Land & Legacy amendment Minnesota voters approved in 2008 that dedicates a portion of sales tax to fish and wildlife, clean water, parks & trails. 
“Pheasants Forever received grant funding to purchase land like this,” said Sandquist. “The property fits our mission.”
No purchase price was indicated during the meeting.
Sandquist said Pheasants Forever’s intentions after they purchase the property is to donate it to the Minnesota DNR to become a WMA, open to public hunting, fishing, trapping bird watching and other outdoor compatible uses.
“The property is in CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) and has been for at least 10 years,” said Sandquist. “The remainder of it is woods. The Clearwater River runs through it for about a half mile and there’s some wetlands on the property. That’s the reason we’re interested in acquiring this property and working with these folks.”
Supervisor Dan Mol asked when it would be turned over to the DNR.
“We start the process almost immediately. Generally speaking it’s six months to two to three years before we transfer it over to the DNR,” said Sandquist. “In the meantime, when Pheasants Forever owns the property we do allow hunting on it. We basically treat it much the same way as a WMA.”
Sandquist said while Pheasants Forever owns the property, they will be paying the same taxes as a private landowner would, so the township would not be losing tax revenue.
Once the state takes over, the township and county will receive Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT), a program that has been in existence for years that reimburses jurisdictions for public lands.
“PILT is based on the land value, which is appraised evey five years,” said Bengston. “We do that on all wildlife areas across the state.”
Township resident John Notsch asked whether the DNR might change the designation of the property and not allow hunting.
Bengston said it was very unlikely.
“Our mission is to preserve habitat for wildlife and provide public recreation,” he said. “It takes legislative action to sell a WMA. That’s something we rarely if ever do. I don’t foresee any change. That area is going to be open to hunting. We have a mission. Our goal is to create open space, create a place that people can go to and enjoy nature.”
Sandquist said once the purchase goes through they will start initial development, which generally means grassland restoration and wetland restoration.
“This property is pretty much essentially restored, so we would begin some of the parking lot work,” he said.
There will most likely be three parking areas, one off Hwy. 24, another off a township road and one in Stearns Co. off Co. Rd. 44.
Bengston said their parking areas are very understated - usually a fenced off area with gravel on an existing approach. One Twp. 
area will most likely be the old Clearwater Twp. Hall parking lot.
He said the land will be kept in its natural state. No motorized vehicles, no snowmobiles or horses will be allowed.
“We have a public mandate in this state to look for areas that have this prime habitat area. It’s our mission to look for these valuable areas.
“In Clearwater Twp., you’re sitting on tremendous natural resources. A lot of private landowners maintain those natural resources by themselves. But on top of that protection of natural resources is having land for the public to use,” he said.
Bengston said there are always going to be a few people who abuse their privileges and don’t respect boundaries. But the DNR will do its best to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“We try to be good neighbors. We try to have a presence,” he said. “We try to keep the areas neat and orderly and posted so they’re clearly marked on both sides so that when hunters are on a wildlife area, they know when they are leaving it. 
Sandquist said the goal is to close on the property by late December.


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