DNR commissioner visits to discuss proposed budget

NICOLLET — Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Sarah Strommen visited the Nicollet Conservation Club Tuesday to discuss the proposed DNR budget.

Gov. Tim Walz is recommending $131 million for the 2019 DNR capital budget.

The DNR manages over 2,800 buildings. A third of these buildings are over 50 years old. A quarter of the buildings are in unacceptable or poor conditions. Only a quarter meet modern design and building standards.

DNR capital needs include buildings, trails, roads and bridges. The Natural Resources Asset Preservation (NRAP) recommends $71.5 million to fund buildings, water and wastewater systems, energy improvement projects, road and bridges, trails and trail bridges, water access sites and water control structures.

An additional $14 million is needed to make DNR buildings ADA accessible, energy efficient and strategically located.

Many buildings at state parks are also not ADA compliant. The budget request includes $19.5 million to improve accessibility and renovations of park buildings and trails.

The budget has $20 million for betterment and acquisition of public lands. The funds would provide for reforestation of state lands, groundwater monitoring wells, state trail connections, prairie restoration in parks and along trails, stream restoration, water access improvements and shade tree program grants.

Currently, less than 2 percent of Minnesota’s prairie remains. Efforts to restore prairie include buying land. Often this is from unused farmland. The DNR also works with private land owners wishing to restore native prairies.

Another $2 million is needed to replace aircraft staging and access areas at air tanker bases. This infrastructure is used to prevent and suppress wildland fires.

Dams require ongoing repairs to protect public safety and maintain water levels on recreational lakes. The budget proposes $2 million for Minnesota dams.

The parks and trails system would receive $2 million. This money would provide competitive grants to local governments for acquisition and development of local and regional parks and trails.

In addition to the capital budget, Walz has included other budget items affecting the DNR. He is recommending $4.57 million to combat chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD is a fatal neurological disease that affects deer.

Strommen said CWD is frightening and hurts more than deer hunters. This is viewed as a public problem that affects Minnesota’s economy. Deer hunting provides a $500 million economic boost to the state’s economy. Communities depend on the influx of money brought by deer hunters. Conservation is in the state’s best interest.

Walz is recommending $4.57 million from the general fund next year and $1.1 million in the following years to combat the disease.

The spread of invasive aquatic species continues across Minnesota. Strommen said education is the important part, as is inspection of water craft. Inspectors are needed to help boaters properly clean off invasive species. Strommen said in recent years grants for fighting invasive spaces were cut, but this year officials hope to put money back into these grants.

Walz has proposed a user-fee increase for watercraft. The fees were last increased in 2006. The increase in fees would be used for maintenance and rehabilitation of boat accesses and docks.

In an effort to monitor the effectiveness of special and statewide angling regulation, $278,000 is proposed for conducting an angler survey. This information could be used to track trends in fishing and angler preferences.

“The budget is more than numbers,” Strommen said. She said the budget reflects people and a quality of life.

Since being appointed DNR commissioner, Strommen has traveled across the state to sit down with people to determine what they need from the DNR.

She said overall, people want high-quality parks and fisheries and they want access to Minnesota’s natural resources.

“They have a positive attitude toward making our resources better,” she said.