How do you feel about spending more money for hunting and fishing licenses in Minnesota?
That question promises to come up a fair bit over the next few weeks as state lawmakers grapple with Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal to raise hunting and fishing license fees. As colleague Sam Cook of sister paper the Duluth News-Tribune reports in a story on the cover of today’s Herald section of Northland Outdoors, the DNR’s Game and Fish Fund, which pays for the bulk of fish and wildlife management in Minnesota, is expected to go into the red in 2019 without an influx of additional dollars.
The DNR last increased license fees in 2012.
As Cook reports, support for the proposed fee hike appears to be solid in northeast Minnesota, at least among the people he interviewed.
Personally, I don’t mind spending a few bucks more to hunt and fish in my home state if the money is spent wisely and I can see the results in the areas I hunt and fish. I view public land as an asset rather than a liability, especially if it’s managed well.
I like to see trails mowed, boat ramps maintained and money spent on research such as netting and creel surveys on Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake. The state’s public lands and waters are too valuable to be neglected, the way I see it.
Still, I expect the fee hike, which would increase the price of a resident fishing license from $22 to $25 and a resident deer license from $30 to $34 — fees such as boat, snowmobile and ATV registrations would increase, as well — will face tough sledding in the Legislature.
If, like me, you’re a North Dakota resident who owns land and does a lot of recreating in Minnesota, you’d pay $51 instead of $45 for a fishing license and $185 instead of $165 for a nonresident deer license.
How much sympathy nonresidents garner remains to be seen, but I don’t think a Republican-controlled Legislature will be sympathetic to raising prices for Minnesota residents, especially since license fees last increased only five years ago.
Before that, hunting and fishing license fees hadn’t increased since 2001.
The potential for that resistance was apparent before the session when I interviewed state Rep. Dan-Fabian, R-Roseau, for a preview story on outdoors issues that were likely to surface during the session. There were rumblings about a proposal to raise hunting and fishing license fees at that point, but nothing had yet been proposed.
Fabian, who is chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, said he’d like to see more examples of reforms and ways the agency could streamline its operations before supporting a fee hike.
As examples, he cited efforts such as the Star of the North Trail, a cooperative venture between the DNR and the Lake of the Woods Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society, to establish a network of hunting trails in Beltrami Island State Forest, and volunteers who are grooming trails at Zippel Bay, Hayes Lake and Lake Bronson state parks this winter because DNR staff aren’t available to do the maintenance.
According to at least one of the volunteers I know, there was a lot of red tape to overcome before volunteers could groom the trails, but it finally happened. And the Star of the North Trail is one of the most exciting projects to come along in quite some time and is off to a great start.
If volunteers are willing and able to make public lands better places to visit, that’s a win-win the way I see it. I’m not sure volunteers are a long-term fix for maintaining wildlife management areas, setting nets for fisheries surveys or operating the specialized equipment often necessary to manage public lands and waters.
The expertise DNR staff bring to their jobs has to be taken into consideration, as well.
In the meantime, DNR officials say they’re doing all they can to keep spending in check. The recent retirement of Crookston DNR wildlife manager Ross Hier hasn’t been filled — leaving assistant manager Emily Hutchins to fill both shoes — and a summer creel survey planned for Lake of the Woods has been scrapped for lack of funding. That fisheries office, in Baudette, Minn., also is leaving vacancies unfilled for now.
Those are just a few examples of DNR belt tightening.
An oft-cited argument against raising license fees comes from the Legacy Fund Minnesota voters approved in 2009 for natural resources, parks and the arts. Money from that dedicated fund raises upwards of $100 million annually, but it can’t be used to bolster traditional funding sources such as hunting and fishing license dollars.
In other words, it can’t be used to shore up the beleaguered Game and Fish Fund.
Area conservation groups, sportsmen’s clubs and others with an interest in the DNR’s fee hike proposal will have a chance to learn more Thursday night in Thief River Falls, when the Pembina Trail Toms chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation hosts an info session in the Joint Operations Facility, located at 246 125th Ave. NE near the intersection of state Highway 1 and U.S. Highway 59.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m.
DNR staff will be on hand to give a presentation and answer questions about the proposal.
Ultimately, it will be up to hunters, anglers and others who appreciate Minnesota’s natural resources to make the case to skeptical lawmakers that increasing hunting and fishing license fees is the best course of action.
That’s going to be an uphill battle.