State officials say development is crowding hunting landby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
Officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are concerned that development is crowding land that's been set aside for hunting. The state has nearly 2,000 square miles of wildlife management areas, also know as WMAs. The pristine prairies, wetlands and forests are great for wildlife and hunting, but are also attracting developers and homebuilders especially near the Twin Cities. The DNR wants more space between development and hunting areas, but some worry that will infringe on the rights of property owners.
Bethel, Minn. — Jill Fahnhorst says it's easy to see why she and her husband live near a wildlife management area.
"It's beautiful, absolutely beautiful," Fahnhorst says about the the landscape adjoining her yard.
The Fahnhorsts live next to Paul Hugo Farms Wildlife Management Area in Washington County. The couple bought a hobby farm near the DNR land 25 years ago, and now in the midst of rapidly growing Twin Cities' suburbs they're guaranteed never to be penned in.
"We don't have neighbors sitting on top of us, nor will we ever," Fahnhorst says.
But the Fahnhorsts haven't forgotten the purpose of the neighboring state land. It's a great place to take a hike, but they know it's also been set aside as a place to hunt. In this management area, there are hunting seasons for deer, pheasant, small game and waterfowl.
"We knew that it was a hunting area and the benefits of having the property next to us far outweigh any inconvenience placed by hunting. We just know that we don't go walking in the woods and down by the lake during hunting season," Fahnhorst says.
The DNR wishes everyone who lived next to a wildlife management area had that attitude. But the fact is more houses are being built next to DNR hunting land, and that brings more neighbors who are less tolerant of hunting.
The DNR's Bill Welsh walks across an empty residential lot for sale near the Bethel Wildlife Management Area in northern Anoka County. There are a half-dozen lots here that offer unobstructed views of more than 600 acres of lakes and woods. At $135,000 a piece, they're $30,000 more than other lots in this development. Welsh has seen this situation before.
"This will get all developed, people will buy these lots, pay the $30,000 premium to be here and then when they see an orange coat walking past their backyard in the fall they get all excited. They say 'This is a wildlife refuge, why are there people carrying guns next to my backyard?'," Welsh says.
According to Welsh the DNR would prefer to see these types of new neighborhoods built in a way that gives the hunting area some elbow room.
"The houses could've been grouped a little closer together, further away from the boundary. And then some dedicated park space could've been used to buffer between the WMA and the private backyards," Welsh says.
Welsh says the DNR also wants local governments to require disclosure statements for real estate deals near a wildlife areas. They want potential buyers to understand that neighboring DNR land is more than a just pretty view from the kitchen window, it's also for hunting.
But Jeff Stalberger, who built this development, thinks the people who build houses here know exactly what's happening on the other side of the fence.
"Everyone's aware that it's public hunting ground. I would assume they're not that naive that there could be someone out there with a gun when you're backing up to a DNR public hunting ground. They're paying a higher price to get that lot, they know what they're getting into," Stalberger says.
DNR officials maintain that allowing residential development to touch the borders of hunting land is threatening its use. The DNR is already considering abandoning a half-dozen wildlife management areas between and St. Cloud and the Twin Cities because they're crowded by residential development.
- Morning Edition, 05/24/2007, 7:55 a.m.