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Last reviewed January 2010

Resources on Minnesota Issues
Minnesota Consolidated Conservation (Con-Con) Lands

This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to Minnesota legislators. It is designed to provide an introduction to the topic, directing the user to a variety of sources, and is not intended to be exhaustive.

Minnesota's Consolidated Conservation (Con-Con) lands located in the counties of Aitkin, Beltrami, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, and Roseau became state owned through tax forfeiture in 1929, 1931 and 1933. In an effort to make these lands more suitable for agricultural purposes the counties had issued bonds for drainage ditches. The unsuitability of the land for farming purposes and the Great Depression contributed to massive abandonment of the lands and their resultant tax delinquency. This in turn caused defaults on the payments of the bonds and several counties were in danger of bankruptcy. To prevent this from happening the state agreed to take on the drainage debts totaling approximately $4,750,000. In return the state was given clear title to about 1.6 million acres of land which became known as Con-Con lands. These lands are governed by Minnesota Statutes, chapter 84A.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was charged with managing these lands. The bulk of them were placed under one of five different designations: wildlife management areas, state forests, state parks, scientific and natural areas, or agricultural lands. About half of the acres were designated as agricultural lands and sold, only to become tax delinquent once more. The remaining public lands have generated income for the counties in the form of payments in lieu of taxes (Minnesota Statutes, sections 477A.11 - 477A.145). In addition, the counties also received 50% of any revenue generated from the sale of resources on these state owned lands. By 1990, approximately 3/4 of the acres of land had been placed under one of the five designations.

In January 1991, Commissioner Joe Alexander ordered that over 100,000 additional acres of land in Beltrami, Marshall, and Roseau counties would be designated as wildlife management areas. On January 3, 1999, outgoing Commissioner Rod Sando issued an order that designated all the remaining Con-Con lands as wildlife management areas. On January 27, 1999, the order was suspended by Acting Commissioner Ray Hitchcock in order to solicit opinions from interested parties on the appropriate designations for the lands. In addition the Minnesota Attorney General's Office advised that any permanent designations of the remaining acres as state forests or wildlife management areas would require legislative approval. In 2000, about 260,000 acres of land were so designated by the Minnesota Legislature.

This same legislation allowed counties affected by Commissioner Alexander's 1991 Con-Con land designations to request a review of those designations. All the affected counties requested a review. After public review, Commissioner Allen Garber recommended that the Minnesota Legislature designate the remaining lands as wildlife management areas. The issue was addressed by the Minnesota Legislature in 2001 and the legislation passed in 2002. Effective January 1, 2003 the final Con-Con acres were officially designated as wildlife management areas. The 2002 legislation also required the designation of at least 90 miles of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trails in these wildlife management areas. In January 2006, Commissioner Gene Merriam issued an order related to the designation of these ATV trails. The order becomes effective on December 31, 2006.

Legislative History:

Laws of Minnesota 1929, chapter 258 established the reforestation and flood control areas in Beltrami, Koochiching, and Lake of the Woods counties. Laws of Minnesota 1931, chapter 407 established those in Aitkin, Mahnomen, and Roseau counties. Laws of Minnesota 1933, chapter 402 was responsible for Marshall county's reforestation project. In the Laws of Minnesota 1949, chapter 498, section 2 the legislature combined the money from these lands into the Consolidated Conservation Areas Fund, currently codified as Minnesota Statutes, section 84A.51. The Minnesota legislature curtailed the addition of future tax forfeited lands when it passed Laws of Minnesota 1984, chapter 654, article 2, section 84, currently codified as Minnesota Statutes, section 84A.57. In an effort to designate more of these lands, in 2000 the legislature introduced and heard House File 3167/ Senate File 3131. The Con-Con language was discussed on the Senate Floor on 5/9/2000 as an amendment to House File 3213 which became Laws of Minnesota 2000, chapter 485. In 2001 Senate File 2125 / House File 1359 were introduced to address the designation of the final acres originally designated in 1991. The legislation passed in 2002 and became Laws of Minnesota 2002, chapter 353. Additional amendments are referenced in the history section at the end of the relevant Minnesota Statutes.

Significant Books and Reports:

Consolidated Conservation (Con-Con) Lands Disposition Recommendation to the Minnesota Senate and House Environment & Natural Resource Committees. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, January 15, 2001. (HD 243 .M6 D72 2001) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2000, chapter 485, section 25g.)

Consolidated Conservation (Con-Con) Lands Legislative Report. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, January 15, 2003. (HD 243 .M6 D725 2003) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2002, chapter 353, section 8.)

Consolidated Conservation (Con-Con) Lands Legislative Report. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, January 15, 2004. (HD 243 .M6 D725 2004) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2002, chapter 353, section 8.)

Dana, Samuel Trask, John H. Allison and Russell N. Cunningham. Minnesota Lands: Ownership, Use, and Management of Forest and Related Lands. Washington D.C.: The American Forestry Association, 1960, p. 156-168. (HD 211 .M6 D3)

Draft Recommendations Related to the Consolidated Conservation (Con-Con) Lands Under Review. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, September 29, 2000. (HD 243 .M6 D72 2000) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2000, chapter 485, section 25e.)

FY ... in Lieu of Tax, MS 477A.11-14. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Real Estate Management, 1996-99. (HJ 4231 .F98)

Helmberger, John. Transfer of Consolidated Conservation (Con-Con) Land Administration from the Department of Natural Resources to the Counties, Analysis of Fiscal Impacts; Final Report. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2000. (HD243.M6 H45 2000)

Isolated Consolidated-Conservation (Con-Con) Lands Report to the Minnesota Senate and House Environment & Natural Resource Committees. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, January 15, 2001. (HD 243 .M6 D724 2001) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2000, chapter 485, section 26.)

Merrian, Gene. Designation of All-Terrain Vehicle Trails in Wildlife Management Areas on Lands under the Authority of the Commissioner in Aitkin, Beltrami and Marshall Counties, Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, January 3, 2006. (Vertical File: P191)

Stinchfield, Joseph, and Brian Stenquist. Long Range Plan for Land Acquisition and Disposition in Counties with Consolidated Conservation Land. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, September, 1984. (HD 211 .M6 S74) [Required by Laws of Minnesota 1983, chapter 301, section 31, subdivision 3(o)]

Significant Articles:

Beeman, Michelle. "The Epic Journey of Con-Con Lands." Roots, March 2001, p. 1, 4.

Christenson, Sam. "Designating the Consolidated Conservation Lands." Roots, June 1999, p. 1, 4.

Currie, Leigh. "The Fate of 102,000 Acres of Con Con Lands is Up in the Air - in More Ways Than One." Minnesota Out-of-Doors, January/February 2002, p. 12-13, 17, 20.

Dokken, Brad "Finding Common Ground for ATVs Proves Elusive." Grand Forks Herald, December 9, 2001, p. 1B.

Drieslein, Rob. "Garber: DNR Proposes Keeping Con-Con Lands." Outdoor News, August 20, 1999, p. 1, 21.

Hitchcock, Raymond B. "Hitchcock Replies." Star Tribune, February 21, 1999, p. 24A (Letters from Readers).

Kallok, Mike. "DNR to Discuss Ditch Maintenance in Con-Con Areas." Outdoor News, May 25, 2007, p. 7.

Karnowski, Steve. "DNR Plan Aims to Resolve Con-Con Dispute of 187,000 Acres, Most Would Become Designated Forest." St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 17, 1999, p. 3B.

Ness, Lance. "Con-Cons: Do it for Joe." Outdoor News, February 8, 2002, p. 2, 18.

Niskanen, Chris. "Before Opposing Public Land, Remember Its Benefits." St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 2, 1999, p. 2C.

Niskanen, Chris. "State's Con-Con Lands up for Grabs." St. Paul Pioneer Press, February 7, 1999, p. 15C.

Perich, Shawn. "Controversy Puts Public Lands at Risk." Outdoor News, February 5, 1999, p. 1, 4.

"Proposed Con-Con Land Designations Announced by DNR." Minnesota Out-of-Doors, September/October 1999, p. 21-22.

Schara, Ron. "Sando's Last Good Deed Undone by Interim DNR Chief." Star Tribune, February 14, 1999, p. 18C.

Smith, Doug. "175,000 Acres are Crux of DNR Debate." Star Tribune, February 10, 1999, p. 10C.

Smith, Doug. "90 Miles of Trails Near Wildlife Areas to be Opened to ATVs." Star Tribune, January 4, 2006, p. 6B.

Smith, Doug. "WMA Controversy Unsettled." Star Tribune, May 13, 2001, p. C13.

Spielman, Tim. "DNR: Keep Remaining Con-Cons as WMAs." Outdoor News, October 13, 2000, p. 1, 20.

Spielman, Tim. "Lottery-in-Lieu Funds Con-Con Compromise." Outdoor News, March 15, 2002, p. 1, 27.

Spielman, Tim. "Remaining Con-Cons Up for Review." Outdoor News, July 28, 2000, p. 3.

Significant Internet Resources:

Consolidated Conservation (Con-Con) Lands -- From the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Additional Library Resources:

For historical information, check the following codes in the Newspaper Clipping File and the Vertical File:
M68-Natural Resources Department (DNR), P191 (Public Lands MN)

For additional reports at the Legislative Reference Library, use this Library catalog search:
Consolidated Conservation Lands

Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, 645 State Office Building, Saint Paul, MN  55155