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Farmers beating buffer deadline

This Stearns County, Minn., buffer was seeded last spring and state officials checked it this fall. It filters pollution from water running into a nearby stream. Board of Soil and Water Resources photo

Many farmers in Douglas County didn't like how the state's new buffer law came to be.

They felt left out of the process and were frustrated when many of their suggestions to ease the requirements were shot down in the Legislature, according to Andy Rice with the Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District.

But lately more of them have been stepping forward, some a bit reluctantly, to meet the new requirements before the Nov. 1 buffer compliance deadline.

"For the most part, people are coming in and bringing their land into compliance," Rice said. "Even if they're not in agreement with it, they understand, for the most part, that this is a good thing."

In Douglas County, the law requires landowners to maintain a 50-foot buffer of perennial vegetation along public waters listed on the Department of Natural Resources buffer map.

Douglas County's preliminary compliance rates with the buffer law is between 80 and 89 percent, according to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

Rice said the rate is somewhat skewed because it includes lakeshore property, not just agricultural land. Lakeshore property, he said, is all in compliance, while more than 400 agricultural parcels are still undergoing review.

"Those 400 could go either way — whether they are compliant or not," he said.

The initial compliance checks were determined by aerial photos.

"There were definitely sites where quite a few acres need to be added," Rice said. "For the majority of the sites, a buffer is there, just not as much feet as required by law. There were no sites (in Douglas County) without a buffer. They just need to add a little bit of land to get to that 50-foot requirement."

Farmers seem to understand the buffer rules. The conservation district sent out letters twice — the last round in August when 600 letters were mailed to landowners. Public meetings were also held.

A challenge, however, is informing absentee landowners — those who rent their land but live out of the state or in the Twin Cities area, which is not as agriculturally focused, Rice said. "Those are the ones a little confused," he said.

As the Nov. 1 buffer compliance deadline approaches, landowners are encouraged to call or stop into Rice's office to ensure they're compliant.

Landowners unable to meet the compliance deadline may file for an extension. A waiver allowing for up to a one-year extension must be filled out and returned to the Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District office by Nov. 1.

Landowners who are unsure if their land is adjacent to a waterbody or watercourse requiring a buffer can go to http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/buffers/index.html. Landowners have the option to enroll land into a conservation program and receive financial assistance. Options include State and Buffer Cost-Share, Conservation Reserve Program and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

Rice said the programs can help offset the cost of seed, seeding and site preparation for buffers. Funding is limited and is awarded on a first come, first serve basis. Anyone interested should stop by the Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District office to go over options.

For more information, contact Rice at 320-763-3191, extension 3, or visit the webpage www.bwsr.state.mn.us/buffers.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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