By Minnesota House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie

The Minnesota Legislature has an historic opportunity this session to help preserve our state's wildlife heritage for future generations. It's an opportunity we must take to keep Minnesota's top-notch quality of life intact for the next 50 years and beyond.

In 1951, Minnesota became the first state to establish Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) to address our alarming loss of wildlife habitat. Initiated by a handful of visionary wildlife managers and promoted for half a century by hunters, trappers, wildlife enthusiasts and state lawmakers, today there are 1,355 WMAs located in 86 of Minnesota's 87 counties. And, due to Minnesota's success, WMAs are now prevalent throughout the country.

WMAs are the backbone of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' wildlife management efforts. Under the WMA system, the state buys wetlands and other habitats that have a high potential for wildlife production, and then develops these lands and waters for public hunting, fishing, trapping, bird watching, nature photography and other outdoor recreation activities. The acquisitions are completely voluntary; the land sales to the state require a willing seller.

WMAs are important to Minnesota because they protect wildlife habitat for future generations and provide citizens with hunting, fishing and wildlife watching opportunities. WMAs also promote wildlife-based tourism, which is vital to our state's economy, especially in rural Minnesota. In 2001, hunting alone added over $1.3 billion to our state's economy.

To celebrate the first 50 years of Minnesota's successful WMA program, in 2002 a citizens' advisory committee was formed to analyze current and future needs for wildlife habitat and public access to outdoor recreation, and to plot out the program's next 50 years. The committee * a remarkable coalition of fishing and hunting organizations, outdoor groups and conservationists * recently issued a report with an urgent call to action. Because of rapidly increasing land prices and development pressures, the state must act now to acquire unique habitat before it's too late.

The citizens' committee recommended accelerating wildlife protection over the next ten years through the acquisition of an additional 210,000 acres of habitat. WMA acquisitions should be concentrated primarily in the Minnesota River prairie region, the committee said, where changes in land use, development pressure and habitat fragmentation is the greatest. These Wildlife Management Area acquisitions obviously require an investment, but it's an investment that will pay big dividends to the state in the future. That's why I am authoring legislation this session to usher in the next generation of WMAs. My legislation would dedicate $20 million over the next two years to WMA acquisitions.

With this level of commitment, Minnesota can preserve rapidly dwindling prairie, southeast bluff lands and deciduous transition habitat for future generations. Without this commitment, the land will either come under the backhoe of development or go into private ownership, which often results in restricted access for the public. Waiting definitely will mean losing a terrific chance to protect precious land from development and open it to the enjoyment of all Minnesotans.

I strongly encourage all hunters and conservationists to stand up now and be heard. Join the broad coalition of groups supporting my legislation, from the Safari Club and Pheasants Forever, to the Izaac Walton League and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. Call your legislators and tell them to fund WMA acquisitions in this year's bonding bill at the $20 million level. Tell them it's the love of our state's priceless outdoor heritage and natural resources that unites us as Minnesotans.

House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen
459 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155