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Last reviewed February 2024

Minnesota Issue Guide
Minnesota Consolidated Conservation (Con-Con) Lands

This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to state legislators. It introduces the topic and points to sources for further research. It is not intended to be exhaustive.

Legislative History  Books and Reports  Articles  Internet Resources  Additional Library Resources

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 (DNR) 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, DNR 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 DNR 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 (see Laws of Minnesota 2000, chapter 485).

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 (see Laws of Minnesota 2002, chapter 353). Effective January 1, 2003 the final Con-Con acres were officially designated as wildlife management areas. In January 2006, DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam issued an order related to the designation of these ATV trails. The order became 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.

Laws of Minnesota 1949, chapter 498, section 2 combined the money from these lands into the Consolidated Conservation Areas Fund, currently codified as Minnesota Statutes, section 84A.51.

Laws of Minnesota 1984, chapter 654, article 2, section 84, curtailed the addition of future tax forfeited lands, currently codified as Minnesota Statutes, section 84A.57.

Laws of Minnesota 2000, chapter 485 designated more of these lands, and required that at least 90 miles be designated as all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trails in these wildlife management areas, currently codified as Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.133. (See also HF3167/ SF3131. The Con-Con language was discussed on the Senate Floor on May 9, 2000 as an amendment to HF3213, which ultimately passed to become law.)

Laws of Minnesota 2002, chapter 353 addressed the designation of the final acres, originally designated in 1991. (See SF2125 / HF1359.)

Additional amendments are referenced in the history section at the end of the relevant 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

(articles in reverse chronological order)

Dokken, Brad. "Minnesota Counties Receive Nearly $36 Million in PILT Payments." Grand Forks Herald, September 19, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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