NEW ULM - The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is heaving a small sigh of relief this week, after the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill approving hunting and fishing license fee increases.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, visiting the DNR Regional Offices in New Ulm on Wednesday, said it has been 11 years since the last fee increase, and money has begun to run short.
Landwehr said in the past, the state upped hunting and fishing fees every six years or so. This increase is about five years overdue, by that schedule.
Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney
Minnesota DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr (right) visited with Regional DNR Director Dennis Frederickson Wednesday at the DNR Regional office in New Ulm.
"The last increase was in 2001. Gasoline was $1.74 a gallon then. We do a lot of driving around. The cost of everything else has gone up, too."
The DNR tried last session to get increases approved, but the proposal failed in the face of the "no increases" philosophy of conservative legislators. Without the increases, the states fish and wildlife program funding was projected to run short in 2013.
"When funds run short, we stop filling staff vacancies," said Landwehr. "Without staff, services start to suffer."
It takes staff hours for the state to assess fish populations in the state's lakes, operate fisheries and stock lakes to keep fish populations up. It takes staff hours to maintain wildlife management areas and provide special hunting opportunities.
"If you look at the totalities of the outdoor opportunities we provide, we have one of the best states in the nation," said Landwehr. "That's not by accident. It takes money and management."
The license fee increases were supported by hunting and fishing organizations throughout the state, and by individual sportsmen who rallied at the State Capitol to urge legislators to pass the fees.
"We were delighted with the support we got from the rank and file sportsmen, as well as the outdoors groups," said Landwehr.
Landwehr also commented on efforts to keep invasive species, especial Asian carp, out of Minnesota waters.
"We're very concerned, but its not too late (to protect Minnesota waters). We know the Asian carp are moving toward Minnesota on several fronts, in Iowa and South Dakota."
Landwehr said funds were approved by the Legislature for electric fish barriers on the Mississippi River, at Lock and Dam No. 1 in St. Paul, and Lock and Dam No. 2 in Hastings. The DNR is working with the Army Corps of Engineers on a plan for installing the barriers, and in conducting feasibility studies on the Lock and Dam No. 2 barrier, which would help protect the Minnesota River. The river is prone to flooding in low lying areas there, which could nullify the barrier, said Landwehr.
The earliest a barrier could be placed at Lock and Dam No. 1 would be next year.
While Asian carp are being caught in spots along the river, they have not reached the numbers needed to establish a reproducing population, said Landwehr. He thinks the state still has time to establish barriers before that happens.