Cass board refers land use policy to SWCD

CASS LAKE - Cass County commissioners referred to the Soil and Water Conservation District Board (SWCD) Tuesday a preliminary policy for how the county plans to oversee the conversion of land from forest to agricultural use.

CASS LAKE - Cass County commissioners referred to the Soil and Water Conservation District Board (SWCD) Tuesday a preliminary policy for how the county plans to oversee the conversion of land from forest to agricultural use.

SWCD then will review the proposal, add comments and return the policy to the board for action to implement it.

The need for a policy arose as Potlatch has begun selling off extensive timberland holdings in the county, with some acreages going to large cropland farming operations.

So far, 1,500 acres (minus 200 acres on corners) in Byron Township, 680 acres in McKinley Township and 240 acres in Deerfield Township have been converted from timber to agricultural use.

Cass County also has purchased some Potlatch property, using allocations the Legislature has approved from the three-eighths cent sales tax for environmental purposes.


The county will use these purchases to continue growing pines, to access existing county land and to consolidate its holdings. The county has sold some scattered, non-contiguous land in recent years to offset some of these purchases. Typical purchasers of county land are owners of contiguous property.

This year, the county bought about 400 acres and sold about the same amount.

County land generally is open to recreational uses for trails, hunting and hiking.

Soil most conducive to producing prime pine forests is also conducive to producing good potato crops, according to Land Commissioner Joshua Stevenson, explaining the reason farm operations are interested in the Potlatch properties.

Concerns raised during a committee discussion prior to the board's consideration of a policy focused on the impact of aerial pesticide spraying and groundwater impact from irrigation systems, both for water quality and volume.

The committee determined aerial spraying already is illegal and should be reported to Minnesota Department of Agriculture if it takes place. The state is doing a better job of monitoring groundwater usage for irrigation than in the past, the committee also found.

Two years ago, there were 15 non-permitted irrigators in Cass County. Today only one still operates without a permit.

The policy, being recommended for SWCD to review, states the county should not be issuing permits to farm. Minnesota DNR is doing much better than in the past and should be supported in their role.


Minnesota Department of Agriculture should be the agency to create voluntary best management practices farm operators can follow to conserve soil and water quality in their farming.

Cass County's policy proposes to support a land department policy to purchase buffer land between large farming operations and other land uses, to support Minnesota DNR's water permitting process, to endorse and support best management practices other agencies develop, to finish the county geological atlas and to enforce state controlled rules when violators are identified (illegal spraying or irrigating without permits).

The preliminary resolution adopted for SWCD consideration calls for the county to support ongoing research to develop and implement best management agricultural and forestry practices, a statewide water permitting and reporting process with reasonable enforcement efforts, countywide land use regulations that balance public and private rights, public acquisition of strategic private parcels when consistent with locally adopted standards and approved by the local government unit (township) and expedite effort to complete county geological atlas.

At Tuesday's meeting in Ottertail Peninsula Town Hall, the board obtained verbal support to pursue purchasing 220 Potlatch acres in that township to consolidate timberlands there.

Stevenson said the purchase will depend upon the county successfully obtaining state sales tax money to complete the purchase. If successful, formal town board approval will be sought in 2015, he said. This area is timber covered and not one that would serve as a buffer against agricultural land conversions.

Environmental Services Director John Ringle informed the county board that accumulated waste/junk has been removed from six properties. Two community clean-ups were supported. Four abandoned trailers/houses were removed in cooperation with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

Trying to get rid of junk accumulations by charging owners with law violations has not worked well in the past, Ringle said, adding that cleaning up a site, then assessing costs against the property also had been challenged, because it lacked an appeal process.

The county has legal authority to remove junk, but is not required to do so by law.


Ringle said he has found in many cases, it is more that property owners lack the ability (no pickup truck or health issues) to remove the accumulated debris than that they don't want to remove it.

In the six cases this summer, the county provided the dumpster at no cost to the property owners. The property owners filled it, and the county hauled away the debris.

Three properties were in Pine River Township. One each was in Meadowbrook, Bungo and Crooked Lake Township. The clean-up days the county assisted were for the city of Remer and nearby unorganized township area and for Wilderness Park subdivision.

County solid waste fund covered the $3,545.09 tip fee reductions and roll off charges for the six properties and two community clean-up programs.

Cost to remove the three trailers and one house ran $6,164.50, Ringle said.

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