REGIONAL- County commissioners recently delayed acting on proposed rules regulating dispersed camping in St. Louis County’s state tax-forfeited properties and county-owned lands, asking for …
REGIONAL- County commissioners recently delayed acting on proposed rules regulating dispersed camping in St. Louis County’s state tax-forfeited properties and county-owned lands, asking for additional consideration of the policy’s potential impact on hunters.
The St. Louis County Land and Minerals Department administers approximately 900,000 acres of state tax-forfeited land and oversees several thousand acres of county fee lands that are open to public use, including dispersed camping. The activity is popular among those who shy away from developed campgrounds in favor of a more wilderness-like experience and among hunters who establish camps from which to operate during hunting season.
While the Department of Natural Resources has policies governing dispersed camping in state forests, St. Louis County has never had anything similar for land it owns or manages. Land and Minerals Deputy Director Jason Meyer, who’s been with the department since 1995, said one reason is that there hasn’t been a history of serious abuse of county land.
“We know a lot of dispersed camping happens on our lands throughout the year, and while we’ve never really had a formal policy, we haven’t had any real problems,” Meyer said. “Occasionally we’ve had to address individuals that pop up that have camped on our lands and have been there for quite a while. We’ve had a couple of occasions where someone’s abandoned a camper at a site and we’ve had to track them down or dispose of the camper. We’ve had an informal policy of around two weeks and we haven’t had an issue with it, but it’s something we’ve tossed around.”
Meyer said litter also hasn’t been a problem with dispersed camping.
“Someone might have left some wood or a little bit of litter, but for the most part people have been respectful out there and they take their garbage with them,” he said.
Working in collaboration with other partners, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and the Minnesota Land Trust have donated around 6,000 acres of forest land to the county, Meyer said, for both ongoing forest management and public access. Those gifts helped to stimulate more thinking about possible distributed camping policies, as have the phone calls the Land and Minerals office receives from people inquiring what the policies are.
“This is an attempt to provide some clarity for the public,” Meyer said.
The proposed policy is duplicated nearly word-for-word from the Minnesota Administrative Rules DNR uses to regulate dispersed camping in state forests, but what works for the state might need a little tweaking when it comes to the county.
The proposal was included in the consent agenda for the July 26 Board of Commissioners meeting, meaning that it would have been approved without comment or discussion. But Sixth District County Commissioner Keith Nelson asked that the proposal be removed from consideration for the time being and asked the Land and Minerals staff to determine the potential impact on deer hunters.
Meyer said the department is more than happy to oblige.
“They just want to make sure the policy and protocols work for everybody,” he said. “The intent is not to create a policy that hinders (hunting). We are fully in line with our hunters’ use of the land. We just want to make sure we get the policy right for St. Louis County.”
One issue needing clarification is how the proposed limitations on occupancy relate to hunters. Between the second Sunday in September and the first Saturday in May the following spring, distributed camping is limited to a total of 21 days in any one section, township, and range. If a camp location changes in a calendar year, the new camp must be established at least 15 miles away from the old one.
Meyer noted that the 21 days would provide time for deer hunters to set up a camp a few days before the season started but agreed that the language was unclear as to how it might impact a hunter who wanted to use the site for other game hunting seasons. A person who obtains both bear and deer permits in a given year and wants to use the same place for a dispersed campsite for both seasons is an example of a situation the current wording may not accommodate, he acknowledged.
“The intent here is to allow that hunter to go back to the same spot, just as long as they’re not tying up a spot an unreasonable amount,” Meyer said. “We’re considering things like that – is there a language tweak there that allows that hunter to use that same spot but not be a hindrance.”
With the proposed policy off the table for the moment, Meyer said there will be plenty of time to hone the language, as he said that the department isn’t inclined to enact new regulations right on top of or during this fall’s hunting seasons. They want to avoid the possibility of any confusion, he said, so the best route is to take their time with an eye toward having them in place early next spring.
Meyer said he would welcome comments on the proposed policy, although a formal public comment period wasn’t set prior to it being sent to the Board of Commissioners for approval. Interested parties can obtain a copy of the proposed policy from Meyer by emailing MeyerJ@stlouiscountymn.gov. He can also be reached by phone at 218-726-2605.
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