Minnesota’s Buffer Zone Proposal Needs Careful Consideration

I suspect this blog post won’t make me popular among all sportsmen.

Particularly those sportsmen in Minnesota who have latched on to Governor Mark Dayton’s proposed statewide 50′ waterways buffer zone law proposal.

Is the new law proposal the panacea to bring pheasant populations back to respectable levels once again?   I doubt it.

Will the one-size-fits-all proposal achieve positive outcomes for improved water quality?   Maybe.

Does the Governor in his attempt to sell both farmers and sportsmen on the concept really understand what he is doing?   Not likely.

Ever since this buffer zone concept was first proposed at the Minnesota Pheasant Summit last December sportsmen have clamored to this notion of having landowners mandated to provide vegetative strips to “buffer” waterways from our varied land use (i.e. such as crop farming, etc.).   The concept was first introduced to a bunch of pheasant hunters meeting to brainstorm ways to turn the tide of our state’s pheasant population decline.

In reality, it was a savvy place to announce such a proposal because the crowd gathered all welcomed the concept and was hungry for something positive to grasp onto.   In effect, immediately the news spread like wildfire with sportsmen as the ambassadors carrying the message of this much needed change.   It was a perfect public relations scenario.


Predators love to roam areas near watercourses for the buffet it can become with susceptible prey often being easy pickings.

Well, truth is this concept is intended to have a greater impact on future water quality than it will have for upland birds.   In fact, I actually question if these buffers won’t become killing zones for pheasants, et al. as nesting and brooding habitat now becomes condensed to narrow corridors where most predators are ripe to roam.   Seriously, where do mink, raccoon, skunks, and coyotes do most of their traveling — yup, along watercourses.   It’s a natural highway for them.   Are you telling me that a nest that must sit idle for 3–4 weeks during incubation isn’t a large gamble for the birds anyway?   Let’s not make it even easier for the predators.

Honestly, that is one of my great concerns that deserves much deeper study instead of some anecdotal legislative gesture put forward by an elected official looking to place a feather in his proverbial political cap.   Granted, I applaud the proposal as a measure deserving consideration on many levels, but my concern is it’s nothing but a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that will ultimately not be served as promised.

Now, in full disclosure I am both a sportsman and a landowner who has a watercourse running through my farm.   To the best of my knowledge, there is no crop production that comes within the 50′ requirement, so I do not have any issues that I believe personally affect me regarding this matter.

But other farmers and landowners do have some legitimate concerns as it relates to their interests.   In one blog post I read yesterday the blogger summed up the agriculture perspective concerns far better than I could have grasped and/or explained it.   Take a look at this post entitled: The Buffer Strip Controversy…Debunked.   The blogger, Sara Hewitt, appears to be someone who understands the ramifications even better than our Governor.   I urge you to check it out.

This raccoon is not out for a casual stroll...it's on a mission to find food.

This raccoon is not out for a casual stroll…it’s on a mission to find food.

In closing, perhaps the aspect I hate most about this buffer measure is the simplicity of it.   To the average sportsman who hears about the concept…the immediate response is something like this: “it sounds good to me…let’s do it!”   Yet, I think such a cursory examination of the proposed buffer measure really shows a certain shallowness in thinking.   A shallowness by the sportsman in terms of a “quick fix” or “stop gap” action to fix a problem that is much deeper than adding a few strips of grassland here and there.

I might even call this buffer strip concept a false conservation hope that has potential for future negative consequences.   Indeed, I did not attend the Minnesota Pheasant Summit, but I ask what other substantive pheasant population measures did you hear come from that gathering?   I heard none.   It seemed once this buffer concept was proposed it overshadowed any other potential conservation action conversation.   In effect, the stakeholders of that meeting largely came away from the gathering skipping and singing “Happy Days Are Here Again!”

Well, time will tell.   I might be entirely wrong in my take on this subject, but I can’t help the fact I have some deep reservations about this buffer proposal, especially as it relates to conservation.   It could backfire.   I don’t believe the proposed measure has all upsides without some legitimate risks.   In nature there are few easy answers in this complex world.   Let’s be putting our efforts and our hopes behind proven science and not a government policymaker looking to increase his overall public approval rating.