Unhappy with the DNR's stance on laws affecting turtle races, Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, introduced legislation today that would permit the tourist-drawing events to continue as usual.
"It's just a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense," Koering said Wednesday from his St. Paul office. "I was getting nowhere with the DNR, which doesn't surprise me."
Nisswa, Longville and other northern Minnesota communities sponsor turtle races in the summer to draw shoppers into town and provide an activity for children. Nisswa Chamber of Commerce officials said the summer races draw about 1,200 people each Wednesday. The races have been conducted in Nisswa for almost 39 years.
Earlier this month, Kathy Newton, marketing director for the Nisswa chamber, said she learned that Nisswa's weekly turtle races were endangered by a DNR interpretation of the law. She said she originally was led to believe that a compromise could be worked out so new legislation would not be needed in order for the races to continued.
Koering said a DNR fact sheet on turtle races and Minnesota law was "totally unacceptable" and since he concluded the agency wasn't going to help him he decided to introduce legislation that would allow an exemption that would allow cities, chambers of commerce or nonprofit groups to conduct turtle races for social or charitable events.
The DNR fact sheet outlined the relevant laws, implications for turtle races, proposed rules and other concerns. The fact sheet emphasized that the purpose of the laws was to protect the state's wild turtle population from unsustainable harvest, not to regulate turtle races.
Among the points in the fact sheet that Koering found untenable was the conclusion that people who buy or rent a turtle must receive and hold a receipt.
Richard J. Baker, a DNR animal research coordinator and zoologist, said he had not seen Koering's bill yet. He said he has not heard from Koering but looked forward to working with him on this issue. Baker said there have been no recent changes to the law but it has come to the DNR's attention that some turtle races are not in full compliance with the law.
House members Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, and Dale Walz, R-Brainerd, were both confident the situation would be resolved so turtle races could be conducted this summer.
Howes said he'll introduce House legislation Monday to serve as a companion piece to Koering's proposal.
It'll go through," Howes said. "We'll be just fine. It's just one of those things that distract us from our real job down here."
Walz termed the situation as absurd. He said he was waiting to hear from the deputy commissioner of the DNR and still hoped the problem could be solved administratively. If not, he said, he's prepared to co-author Howes' bill and fix it legislatively.
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