The Department of Natural Resources is failing to protect wetlands, according to some legislators.
Two years ago the Legislature allocated money for a program called Operation Bird's Eye View, where the DNR uses airplanes to find wetlands being filled illegally in the metro area. Last year, the agency flew 300 hours on this mission and issued 470 cease-and-desist orders.
In the nine months of the current fiscal year, it's down to 21 flights and 143 orders.
DFL Rep. Rick Hansen of South St. Paul said the DNR is ignoring priorities set by the Legislature.
"I believe we made this a priority," Hansen said. "I believe in the long run it's cheaper to have this compliance and enforcement than to have to restore wetlands after they've been drained."
Hansen said if the DNR had continued the work, the $100,000 appropriation wouldn't be a target for cuts.
"It's very controversial, so if you're doing triage in terms of what you want to do or must do, it's easier to do those fundamental core issues," he said. "We believe wetland enforcement is a core issue; we appropriated the money for it and we want to make sure they're doing it."
The DNR said there's less construction activity because of the poor economy, and a technicality is preventing transfer of the money.
The DNR's Operations Manager for Enforcement, Rodman Smith, said the agency continues to document wetlands violations when it makes flights for other purposes.
Gov. Pawlenty wants to cut this year's appropriation to help cover the deficit.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated the DNR flew 300 flights to find endangered wetlands last year. Last year, the agency flew 300 hours of flights. This has been corrected.