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Published April 06, 2009, 12:00 AM

Minnesota bill takes aim at tree nurseries

A bill being considered by the Minnesota House's Game, Fish and Forestry Division committee would begin a five-year process of dismantling and selling the Department of Natural Resources' state-run seedling nurseries.

By: James Parthun, Forum Communications

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources may have to shed some of its leaves if a Minnesota House bill passes.

The bill, being considered by the Game, Fish and Forestry Division committee, would begin a five-year process of dismantling and selling the DNR’s state-run seedling nurseries. The DNR would close either the General Andrews Nursery in Willow River or the Badoura Nursery in Akeley. The other facility would shrink over the five-year period and eventually would be sold.

The bill’s author, Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said the DNR’s nurseries present unfair competition with the private sector. Among his

concerns, McNamara said, is that the two facilities were operating at only

15 percent capacity, with 200 full time and seasonal workers, an “astronomical amount of employees.”

The core mission of the DNR is not selling trees, said McNamara, a long-time landscape contractor.

Forest Management and Protection Section Manager Olin Phillips said that only eight employees work on a full-time, permanent basis, and 10 more work more than half time.

The rest work varying lengths from two weeks to the entire season, Phillips said. These are the people who pull the seedlings out of the ground and brush the dirt off, Phillips said. One is 70 years old, he said.

Phillips called McNamara’s bill a “drastic, short-term action.” He said the stakeholders should sit down, look at the long-term effects and work out the structure of a partnership between the public and private sectors.

“Let’s pursue the round-table process, see what

*ecommendations come out,” Phillips said.

Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, sits on the Game, Fish and Forestry Division and agrees that there needs to be further discussion, and said he wants to see more information concerning how much money would be saved by closing and selling the hatcheries.

Long-term planning is important, because looking at the short term could “create unintended consequences,” Falk said.

Phillips said the state has been raising seedlings for 80 years.

James Parthun is a University of Minnesota journalism student who is writing stories for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau.