PAUL — Despite lobbying by a coalition of Minnesota outdoors and environmental groups, Minnesota legislators have so far not included hunting and fishing license fee increases in bills before both the House and Senate.
Nearly 50 of those conservation groups from across the state have asked legislators to include nominal fishing and hunting license fee increases in legislation this session to shore up Department of Natural Resources budgets. Several weeks remain in the legislative session.
The DNR’s fee increase proposals were submitted to the Legislature as part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed state budget.
Meanwhile, DNR officials say the agency’s Game and Fish Fund needs to be bolstered now to avoid serious shortfalls starting next year. In a letter to key legislative leaders, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr outlined the consequences the agency would face if sufficient funding isn’t appropriated. Without the requested fee increases, 96 jobs within the DNR would be at risk beginning July 1 next year when fiscal year 2019 begins, Landwehr said in a letter to Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.
A lack of requested funding in that committee’s House bill would affect several DNR disciplines, Landwehr said, including:
- Reductions to snowmobile and ATV grant-in-aid programs to local clubs
- Reductions to DNR water access, fishing pier and water trail maintenance
- The potential need to lay off 20 workers in the Parks and Trails Division
- Layoffs of 29 to 40 employees in the Fish and Wildlife Division
- Reduced deer surveys
- Possible reduction of 10 conservation officer positions in addition to 17 vacancies that already exist
“Without fee increases and additional appropriations to maintain our current service levels and make strategic investments, we stand to lose significant ground on ensuring that Minnesota is the recreation and economic destination for all,” Landwehr wrote.
John Lenczewski of Eden Prairie, Minn., is executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited and also chairs the DNR’s Game and Fish Fund Citizen Budgetary Oversight Committee.
“With the license fee increase, the Legislature has so far said ‘no,’ ” Lenczewski said Tuesday. “We’re still hopeful. The session is young. But we are concerned. I know they’re (DNR officials) already holding probably 40 positions open between Fish and Wildlife.”
On March 14, 48 hunting, fishing and conservation groups sent a letter to legislative leaders asking them to approve the DNR’s requested license fee increase in the governor’s budget. Under that proposal, an annual resident fishing license would increase from $22 to $25, and a resident deer license would go up from $30 to $34. Some other license and registration fees also would increase.
“There’s still there’s plenty of time to get (fee increases) worked into the budget,” Lenczewski said. “Voters need to get hold of their legislators and say they want this.”
Hunting and fishing license fees were last raised in 2012, although the fishing license fee increase was less than the DNR had requested. Historically, license fees have been increased nominally every six to 10 years.
The current legislative session is required to end no later than May 22.