The following is a summary of issues of interest to hunters, anglers, bird watchers and conservationists that were resolved before the Minnesota Legislature adjourned in May.
An important bill that passed was the Omnibus Game and Fish Policy Bill (Chapter 215). With 29 sections on a variety of miscellaneous fish and fish policy issues, none were more important and exciting than the sections that reinstated dove hunting in Minnesota. The opener will be Sept. 1 or a date near that date, and the season will extend for up to 60 days with a daily bag limit of 15 birds. The DNR estimates that 30,000 to 50,000 hunters will hunt doves this fall. The estimated dove population in Minnesota is 10 million.
Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) and Sen. Tom Saxhaug (D-Grand Rapids) authored the legislation that brought on the dove hunt. Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar) and Sen. Pat Pariseau (R-Farmington) worked hard over the years to get the legislation across the finish line. A lot of credit must go to Hunters for a Minnesota Dove Season and other groups and individuals. It's almost certain that efforts will be made to repeal the dove hunt in the 2005 session. Hunters must practice patience and strong ethics this fall if dove hunting is to remain in Minnesota.
The Omnibus Game and Fish Policy Bill also had miscellaneous policy changes, including a 9 a.m. duck opener, changes in fish house removal deadlines, a pheasant season extension, changes in nonresident archery deer license charges, a quality deer management study in northwestern Minnesota, muzzleloaders with scopes, archery changes for turkey hunters, trapping for nonresidents, and CWD and cervidae transport changes. The omnibus bill doesn't pass every year, so these changes are important.
The biggest disappoint this session was the failure of the bonding bill. A $650 million bonding bill passed the House, but an $850 million bill failed in the Senate. Unable to get the two bills to conference committee, no bill was realized. A special session for a bonding bill in July would be good for the state, Legislature, construction industry and conservation community.
The top loss resulting from the lack of a bonding bill is funding for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Both the House and Senate bonding bills contained $20 million for the first phase of CREP II. The state has submitted an application to the USDA that would target 120,000 acres in three mini-CREP's around the state. The permanent easement portion of the proposal would include 24,000 acres restored and preserved as wetlands and 5,000 established and maintained as flood control mitigation methods. The remaining 91,000 acres would be set aside for 45 years.
CREP combines the federal USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with Minnesota's Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve Program to set aside marginal agricultural land and environmentally sensitive land along waterways to enhance wildlife habitat, improve water quality, reduce erosion and sedimentation and reduce the impacts of recurrent flooding.
The federal government would commit $180 million to this farm land retirement and restoration effort, if the state invests $46 million. The $20 million is the first payment. The Board of Water and Soil Resources would administer CREP II. Without the down payment from the bonding bill, BWSR staff cannot offer incentive sign up plans to farmers. In addition, some BWSR staff will have to be laid off before the end of the year, resulting in a loss of program expertise.
The Senate's bonding bill had $10 million for Wildlife Management Area land acquisitions. while the House bill had $6 million. The Minnesota Conservation Federation and other groups introduced legislation calling for an investment of $20 million in this year's bonding bill toward the acquisition of 22,000 WMA acres. The DNR and governor recommended $12 million.
Since 1951 more than 781,000 acres of WMAs have been established, providing habitat for hunting, fishing, trapping and bird watching. WMAs also conserve surface water, preserve unique vegetation, natural beauty and open space. Minnesota has 1,355 WMAs in 86 counties. The citizens group that met in 2003 and produced a very strong pro-WMA investment plan and strategy is now waiting for the Legislature to do its part and begin that investment.
The Senate bonding bill had $200 million in conservation and environmental projects and programs, compared to $140 million in the governor's plan and $120 million in the House bill. In addition to funding for CREP and WMAs, that was bonding dollars for wetland road replacement, streambank and lake shore protection, wastewater treatment improvements and other state efforts that protect and enhance habitat, improve and protect water quality, and provide hunting, fishing, trapping and bird watching opportunities for Minnesotans and tourists.
The Minnesota Conservation Federation, along with a number of conservation, environmental, and user's organizations worked for further clarification of last year's off-highway vehicle law. With the DNR squarely in the middle, both sides of this tough issue were looking for better definition of what was legal or illegal under last year's legislation. The compromise worked out by Rep. Dennis Ozment (R-Rosemount) and Sen. Dennis Frederickson (R-New Ulm) is found in Chapter 255. Compromise language allows farmers to get to their land and utility companies to run their lines and pipes. The DNR will continue its forest-by-forest classification of trails.
The bigger change in this year's law is in how wetlands will be protected from ATVs. Riders will become violators in wetlands when their riding becomes "willful, wanton and reckless." The DNR will enforce the Wetlands Conservation Act definition of wetlands, thus establishing a standardized statewide application. Any person will be able to turn in wrongful riders to the DNR for enforcement purposes.
The MCF and other groups opposed proposed changes in the current law regarding ATVs on the Con-Con WMAs in three northwestern counties. This proposal would have resulted in additional miles of trails on these WMAs. The compromise OHV legislation did not change any of the Con-Con WMAs.
With more than 200,000 OHV's registered in Minnesota, this issue no doubt will be reconsidered next session.
Legislation that would have provided a higher bar of protection and preservation of shooting ranges around the state failed again this year. Bills authored by Rep. Tom Hackbarth and Sen. Jim Vickerman (D-Tracy) never crossed the finish line. Supporters of these bills worked with the cities and the counties to reach a compromise on this legislation but were unable to reach an agreement.
Legislation that called for a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide if they would like to "dedicate" a portion of the existing sales tax to conservation, habitat, water quality, parks, trails, and zoos got farther down the road this year then ever before, but again failed to cross the finish line. While the outdoors community remained organized and strong on the effort, they were joined by other groups in search of additional funds for water quality, parks, trails, and zoos.
The House bill, authored by Rep. Tom Hackbarth, would have provided 1/8th of one cent of the current sales tax to be dedicated to hunting and fishing, amounting $75 million per year in new money for habitat and conservation type programs. In its purest form, the bill is modeled after the Missouri Plan, which has been in operation in that state since 1976. The House bill died in the Ways and Means Committee.
The Senate bill, authored by Senator Dallas Sams (D-Staples) would have provided 3/8 of one cent of the current sales tax for all of the areas in the House bill, but added money for "culture and humanities." The Senate version would have provided $75 million per year for hunting and fishing habitat programs, $75 million per year for water quality projects and programs run by the MPCA, and $75 million per year for cultural activities like the Arts Board, public radio, and public TV. No Senate floor vote occurred on that version.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.