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Minnesota DNR gets big budget boost from governor

Gov. Tim Walz's plan would benefit state parks, forests, boat landings and fish hatcheries and tackle climate issues.

Boat landing
Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday proposed a state budget for the coming two years that ads an extra $287 million — most of it from the state's budget surplus — to bolster the state's natural resources and public access to those resources.
2009 file / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would get $287 million in new money over the next two years to rebuild dilapidated state park buildings, boat landings and fish hatcheries under Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed state budget unveiled Tuesday afternoon.

The governor's plan also calls for millions of dollars to be invested into protecting and enhancing grassland, forests, wetlands, peatlands and waterways to help mitigate climate change.

The two-year budget, which would start July 1, would pump unprecedented resources into the state’s outdoor facilities, some of which have been requested for years but have been on hold due to legislative infighting between Republicans and DFLers.

Now, with the DFL in control of the state House, Senate and governor’s office, it’s likely many of Walz’s proposals will pass into law, although the exact funding amounts may not be known until lawmakers adjourn in May.

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The new money would be in addition to the DNR’s usual base budget, which was about $1.35 billion last year including all funding sources. Much of the new money would come from the state’s $17 billion budget surplus expected over the next two years and are one-time-only expenditures.

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The plan also calls for a fishing license fee increase of 20% for Minnesota residents, from $25 annually to $30, and 30% for non-residents, in addition to state park sticker and boat registration hikes, to keep improvements ongoing after the budget surplus is used up.

The proposed budget also includes $1.4 million for the DNR to better monitor and prevent chronic wasting disease, which is slowly spreading across the state, killing wild and farmed deer.

Feeding and attractant bans are aimed at slowing the spread of chronic wasting disease.

Administration officials say the extra money is needed as more people desire to get outdoors more often and as the state works to encourage people with lesser financial means to get outdoors. It’s also a sound economic investment, they noted, with the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis estimating that outdoor recreation contributes more than $9.9 billion annually to Minnesota’s economy and creates 91,000 jobs.

011319.N.DNT.newDNRcomsihC1 -- Sarah Strommen is Minnesota's new Department of Natural Resources commissioner.
Sarah Strommen is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Contributed photo

“With this budget, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in our state’s outdoor recreation experiences and harness the power of our natural lands to mitigate climate change,” said Sarah Strommen, DNR commissioner, in announcing the plan. “By investing in the state’s grasslands, wetlands and forested lands, we can address the climate challenge and improve our environment, public health and economy.

"This budget will enable more Minnesotans to connect to the outdoors, regardless of how they choose to experience nature.”

As part of the larger package, Walz’s proposed $118 million “Get Out More” proposal includes investments in five areas:

  • Access to parks — $28 million to enhance access and welcome new users to outdoor lands and facilities. That includes improving wheelchair and other access to trails, buildings and landings as well as improved road access, parking lots and signage and rehabilitated state trails for all users.
  • State park campgrounds — $5 million revitalize camping and related infrastructure in state parks, much of which was built between the 1930s and 1960s, from park buildings to water supplies and sewage treatment in the parks. The money will come from the general fund and a proposed state park sticker entry fee increase of $10 for an annual pass.
  • Boat landings — $35 million in general fund money, and possibly more from the construction bonding bill, to renew and rehabilitate more than 100 boat landings across the state. Many boat landings are crumbling under heavy use and haven’t been upgraded to accommodate bigger boats and wheelchair accessibility or to guard against invasive species.
  • Ongoing water access — $13.2 million for repairs at water access points, such as landings, including docks and bathrooms and would provide funds to local communities to ensure boater safety in future years. The plan calls for an increase in watercraft registration sticker fees to support those ongoing improvements.
  • Fish hatcheries — $35 million in general fund money, and potentially more from the construction bonding bill, to renew and modernize the state’s fish hatcheries, some of which date back to the 1950s, and to add additional shore fishing piers across the state. 
  • Dam removal — $15 million in general fund money to protect streams and lakes across the state by replacing culverts and bridges to improve stream ecology; removing or modifying dams and restoring habitat to enhance fish passage; and renovate other water control structures to address the impacts of climate change and support waterfowl production. 
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DNR officials said they are investing the budget surplus windfall both to bring facilities and services up to date and then preparing for the state’s future.

“Paddle sports have grown exponentially and we really don’t have an infrastructure to support that,” Strommen said during a news conference Tuesday.

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Man kayaking.
Mark Grover paddles on the St. Louis River at Chambers Grove Park in Duluth on June 20. Minnesota's two-year outdoors budget, which would start July 1, would pump unprecedented resources into the state’s outdoor facilities.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

The plan also calls for $2 million for state trail improvements; $2 million for the ongoing “No Child Left Inside” program to get more kids outdoors more often, especially kids from urban areas; and an additional $800,000 to expand the state’s “Walk In Area” program that pays farmers to let hunters onto their private land, usually land already in conservation programs. The state conservation officer corps would get a $3 million boost for new aircraft to help patrol the state.

The Walz budget also includes $31.7 million that will impact public lands across the state in a broader effort to reduce Minnesota’s carbon footprint, including:

  • Grasslands — $10 million in general fund money to enhance and restore more than 6,000 acres of grasslands and wetlands on public wildlife management areas in an effort to bolster wildlife habitat sand better soak up excess carbon dioxide that is causing climate change
  • Forests — $4.1 million in general fund money to meet the increased demand for planning assistance and cost share funding to assist private woodland owners address their reforestation needs.  
  • New trees — $15.1 million of general fund money for the Releaf Program to help communities deal with the loss of trees from emerald ash borer and other tree pests and disease.
  • Protecting peat — $1.5 million in general fund money to develop a new approach to managing peat bogs on state lands to maximize carbon storage.  

The state’s general fund is stocked with income and sales taxes from all sources. State construction bonds are sold and paid back over many years for major capital improvements.
This story was updated at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25 to correct a word. It was originally published at 2:52 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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