Save a few honks from neighboring ducks and the subtle lapping of the Mississippi on the shores at Green’s Point on Tuesday afternoon, it was another tranquil day on and around the property that has become known as the Mississippi River Northwoods Habitat Complex project.
But in the Minnesota Legislature — where the fate of the project ultimately will be decided — all is not so tranquil. The project has tread rough waters ever since arriving in St. Paul.
According to Becca Nash, project manager for The Trust for Public Land, which is spearheading the project along with several partners, late last month, “the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee passed a bill that included the same language for the project that passed in the Legacy Committee (earlier) that, among other things, reduces the funding to $7.04 million and directs the land to the DNR instead of Crow Wing County.”
In an email Monday night, Nash added that, “After the House Legacy and Environment committees passed a bill that included, among other things, a reduction in project funding to $7.04 million, the bill was passed by the House Ways and Means Committee with no other changes to the project. We are now waiting for the bill to go to the House floor for a vote. We hear it may be this afternoon (Monday). However, there are a couple other bills in line before us. If not today, tomorrow (Tuesday)?”
As of late Tuesday afternoon, there was nothing new on the bill.
In late September, the project cleared a major hurdle — the final step before heading to St. Paul — when the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council voted to recommend more than $14 million for the purchase of 1,988 acres just north of the Brainerd airport from the Potlatch Corporation so as to get the land into public ownership and protect it from development. The property features more than two miles of pristine, undeveloped shoreline along the Mississippi River and a bevy of natural resources and related opportunities.
According to Nash, “The original bill specified that the land would be owned and managed by Crow Wing County, whose board voted unanimously to take on this responsibility. The land would still have to be managed according to the purposes of the funding as written into the state’s constitution (protect, restore and enhance fish, game and wildlife).”
Another bill that would impact outdoors types in the Brainerd lakes area — and across the state — also has slowly been working its way through the Legislature. The Game and Fish Fund bill would result in slight increases — the first in 10 years — for fishing and hunting licenses.
Without the increases, the DNR says the Game and Fish Fund is projected to be in the red by as early as July 2013, meaning it would need to make significant cuts that affect the quantity and quality of hunting, fishing and natural resources law enforcement unless the Legislature approves license fee increases, according to the DNR.
Under the bill, a resident fishing license would go from $17 to $24, a resident small-game license from $19 to $22 and resident deer hunting license from $26 to $30. Nonresident licenses also would increase.
Another bill that also would impact the state’s anglers — the “Mom’s Amendment — proposes moving the fishing opener up a week, from May 12 to May 5, to avoid a conflict with Mother’s Day (May 13). Several years ago, legislators attempted to do the same, but on a permanent basis. This proposal might have some legs as it’s just for this year — to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and to help the resort and tourism industry, which was hurt by lack of snow, poor ice and early ice-outs, by allowing for another week of fishing.
But regardless of the early summer-like weather, the same factors that have doomed such a proposal in the past could do so again this year: It’s unknown exactly how or if the weather will impact walleyes and the spawn. And would Lake Waconia, host of the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener — which has become a lucrative tourism tool over the years — be able to accommodate such a change? The same goes for anglers who already have made plans for a May 12 opener.
Since 1989, the fishing opener annually has been held two Saturdays before Memorial Day weekend, meaning that this year — and for the next three years — Mother’s Day will fall on opening weekend of the fishing season.