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Congrats, Carlton County landowners

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Big kudos and congratulations to the landowners in Carlton County!

The Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is eager to share some very exciting news from the Buffers and Soil Erosion Program Coordinator for the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), according to Laura Christensen, Carlton SWCD conservation technician.

"Carlton County is, unofficially, the first agricultural county in the state of Minnesota to be in 100 percent compliance with the Buffer Law," Christensen said. "Give yourselves a pat on the back, Carlton County landowners!

But what is this "Buffer Law?" Most people have heard it mentioned, but many probably don't know what it's all about or why it is so important.

The goal of the Buffer Law, signed by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton in June 2015, is to protect our state's water resources from erosion and runoff pollution. As a result of this law, there will be about 110,000 acres of "buffer" along waterways in Minnesota. "Waterways" include any lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands and other Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)-designated public waters. The "buffer" is the land next to these waterways.

According to the 2015 Buffer Law, 50 feet of perennial vegetation must be established adjacent to the public water on your property. The buffer must average 50 feet in width, but it can range in size as long as the buffer is a minimum of 30 feet wide. As each parcel of land is different, the law has some flexibility.

If your land in the buffer area of public waters is comprised of lawn, hay land, pasture, forest or some other perennial vegetative cover, your property is already in compliance with the law. However, if you cultivate cropland along public waters, then your property must be examined to determine if it is in compliance. This also includes if you make any changes to what is grown in the future in the buffer area.

After the 2015 Buffer Law was passed, BWSR was tasked with statewide coordination and, in addition, with enforcement of the law in the counties, including Carlton County, which opted out on enforcement.

However, each SWCD in Minnesota was given the job to map buffers adjacent to public waters and public ditches across their county and to help landowners reach compliance. Like other SWCDs across Minnesota, Carton SWCD received funding to help farmers create buffers or alternative practices on noncompliant farmland.

Carlton SWCD had 6,079 parcels across the county to assess and map using an application called the Buffer Compliance and Tracking Tool (BuffCAT). This application allowed SWCD staff to view aerial photos and other mapping layers in order to determine compliance. In circumstances where staff were unable to determine compliance, they had to personally see the particular land parcel to verify the farming practices used.

If a certain parcel could not be seen from the road or if closer inspection was needed, staff had to contact the landowner for permission to access the property.

"Often, the landowner would tag along and we would discuss the law, benefits of buffers, and any concerns or questions they had," Christensen said.

Being raised on a farm helped her to communicate with the landowners, she said. She was impressed with the willingness of landowners to understand the need for buffers and to work with the SWCD to achieve compliance.

Carlton SWCD staff have been working hard since 2015 to examine all properties in Carlton County to determine compliance with the law.

According to the law, properties deemed not in compliance had to have buffers, or alternative water quality practices, in place by Nov. 1, 2017.

Carlton SWCD did the job it was tasked to do by the State of Minnesota: to bring technical advice and financial assistance to help landowners achieve soil and water conservation through 2015 Buffer Law compliance.

However, the "major bragging rights belong to the landowners of Carlton County," Christensen stressed.

Being the first agricultural county to be deemed in 100 percent compliance with this law is a wonderful testament to our county's "hardworking and environmentally conscious farmers and citizens," she said.