Higher hunting, license fees negotiated; early opener dies
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislative negotiators agreed with 60 outdoors groups that hunting and fishing fees should increase, but ditched a proposal to open the fishing season a week early.
They also agreed to establish wolf hunting and trapping seasons.
The House passed a bill Friday night 77-52 with a few game and fish provisions. The major bill, with fee increases, was not expected to be debated by the full House or Senate until Saturday.
Most hunting and fishing license fees would rise under the bill. For instance, adult deer licenses would go from $26 to $30 and adult fishing licenses would rise from $17 to $22.
Lifetime fishing license fees would rise from $383 to $508 and lifetime deer hunting licenses from $573 to $656 for people 16 to 50 years old.
The fee increases are smaller than proposed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. However, the House did not originally approve any increases.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, worked to get enough Democratic support to pass the bills because not all majority Republicans would back it due to the higher fees.
Outdoors groups asked the state to increase hunting and fishing fees because a state fund the fees feed is going broke.
Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said MDHA cautiously agreed to support the license fee hikes after the Department of Natural Resources gave assurances it would work to manage for more deer in the wake of recent population declines.
"They definitely have the data to show they need the dollars," Johnson said. "It's been running on a pretty skinny nickel for quite some time and it's not getting any better. From a wildlife standpoint, over 93 percent of the wildlife division's funding comes from hunting licenses. When you look at that, hunting licenses are the key to make sure we've got good wildlife management."
"The DNR is very happy with it," Ingebrigtsen said of the agreed-upon fee increases.
That fund helps animal habitat, which outdoors groups say is critical to continue to provide good hunting and fishing.
The game and fish fund would be in debt by next year if nothing is done, the Department of Natural Resources says.
Wolf hunting and trapping seasons would be open now that the federal government has removed wolves from the endangered list. Hunters may use firearms or bows and arrows.
The firearms wolf season would open on the same day as firearms deer hunting season. The natural resources commissioner would decide how many wolves could be taken and how many licenses to issue.
Wolf license fees would be $30 for Minnesotans and $250 for residents of other states.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said it will be beneficial to re-evaluate the wolf hunting program in a year, since "we don't know what's going to happen."
Johnson, of the deer hunting group, was not thrilled with a provision sponsored by Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, to require 50 cent from every deer license to go for wolf management.
"It's not an easy thing to swallow, that deer should be paying for wolf management, but if it's the key, we'll do it," Johnson said.
Though he said it was too late to address this year, Ingebrigtsen said he thinks the fishing opener issue should be revisited, since it often falls on Mother's Day.
The two latest bills and a third one provide funds to fight invasive species, such as Asian carp that are moving north into Minnesota.
A bill that spends sales taxes that voters increased in 2008 for outdoors and arts projects is headed for the governor with almost $100 million. It includes $8.5 million to build barriers to keep carp from advancing and $4 million to launch a University of Minnesota program to research invasive species.
The measure, known as the legacy bill, also would spend $15 million on forests, $31 million on wetlands and $28 million on habitat work.
Also in the compromise bills are provisions to:
-- Continue sales of hunting and fishing licenses even if a budget impasse forces a government shutdown like last year.
-- Increase snowmobile state trail fees from $15 to $35.
-- Set a $10.50 license fee for canoes, kayaks, sailboards, paddle board, paddle boats and rowing shells longer than 10 feet.
-- Require many public shooting ranges in the Twin Cities area to be open at least four times a year for youth shooting class members. The provision excludes Minneapolis and St. Paul, which Ingebrigtsen called a "pretty good compromise."
-- Allow remote-controlled decoys to hunt migratory waterfowl and mourning doves.
-- Allow disabled hunters to use a mounted gun or other device to help discharge a firearm or use a bow.
-- Let local governments kill beavers that cause damage to government property.
-- Reconfigure the venison donation program to make it more efficient.
-- Establish a course in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species, especially dealing with moving of boats from one body of water to another. A boat owner who completes the course would get a decal that would be needed before a boat could be moved.