WASHINGTON (AP) -- Three officials from Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources will lobby Sen. Rod Grams next week to support a landmark conservation bill that would provide $38.5 million to the state next year.
But Grams, R-Minn., said he has serious concerns with the legislation, and plans to offer an amendment that would ensure there is no net loss of hunting and fishing on federal lands. On Monday, the Humane Society of the United States said it would oppose the bill if Grams' amendment were added.
Minnesota has made passage of the legislation, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, one of its top federal priorities. "It would have a significant impact on the state's environment," said Steve Morse, the DNR's deputy commissioner.
Nationally, the bill would provide $45 billion over 15 years to buy public lands to create new urban parks, protect wildlife and restore eroded beaches. The money would come from the $4 billion to $5 billion collected annually from oil drilling on government leases, mostly offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska.
Both the full House and a Senate committee have approved it, and the bill could come up in the Senate before Congress adjourns next month. On Monday, Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., joined 44 Senators urging Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, and Sen. Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, to work to get the bill passed this year.
Morse said that for Minnesota, the bill would mean $5 million annually for land restoration, water quality improvements, and planning near Lake Superior; $8 million for the state and federal government to buy land for state parks, recreational lands, national parks and forests; and $7 million for wildlife conservation efforts aimed at both game and non-game species.
The DNR is dispatching enforcement director Bill Bernhjelm, fisheries director Ron Payer and staff member Emmett Mullen to meet with members of the state's congressional delegation in Washington, but mainly to win over Grams. Officials from other states will be lobbying their lawmakers as well.
"We will be explaining why this bill is so important and what impact it will have in Minnesota," said Morse.
But Grams said he's concerned that by taking over more land, the federal government would put more restrictions on it.
Last month, he announced an amendment guaranteeing "no loss of even one acre of public land to hunting and fishing. ... Sportsmen and women must have confidence that the taxes they pay to support their sport will be spent on resource enhancement and hunting and fishing programs."
Grams' language is similar to a bill introduced in the House by Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the Hunting Heritage Protection Act. Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., John Thune, R-S.D., and Mark Green, R-Wis., have signed on as co-sponsors.
Wayne Pacelle, a lobbyist and vice president for the Humane Society, said the group supports the Conservation and Reinvestment Act but would work to defeat it if Grams' amendment were added.
"We don't want this to be a Christmas tree for the hunting lobby," he said. "This is the sort of thing we've been worried about."
Pacelle said that hunting is already allowed on 600 million of the 700 million acres owned by the federal government.
The Conservation and Reinvestment Act is S. 2567
The Hunting Heritage Protection Act is H.R. 4790
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