Minnesota hunting and fishing license fee increases could be ‘tough sell’Fewer fish surveys. No maintenance of hunter walking trails. Less deer habitat work. All of that will happen if the Legislature doesn’t authorize an increase in hunting and fishing license fees in the current session, say Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
Fewer fish surveys. No maintenance of hunter walking trails. Less deer habitat work.
All of that will happen if the Legislature doesn’t authorize an increase in hunting and fishing license fees in the current session, say Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials.
Citing a Game and Fish Fund in “dire condition,” DNR officials are imploring legislators to approve hunting and fishing license fee increases soon. The Game and Fish Fund, supported mostly by license revenue, is projected to go into the red as soon as July 2013.
Without those fee increases, an already strapped DNR will be forced to make cuts that hunters and anglers are sure to notice, officials say.
“Drastic cuts will need to be made in big-game habitat improvement,” said DNR area wildlife manager Tom Rusch in Tower. “Deer and grouse habitat projects will be reduced by 30 to 50 percent. Hunter walking trail maintenance likely will be eliminated. Deer, bear, grouse and furbearer surveys will be reduced 30 percent, impairing staff’s ability to make hunting season recommendations.”
“We’ve got a lot of lakes over here,” said Chris Kavanaugh, DNR area fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids. “About 200 of them have active management plans. They’re high-priority waters for angling. If we reduce surveys, we may miss key data. We may not have current information for anglers that help them decide where to go fish.”
Under the proposals, a resident fishing license would rise from $17 to $24. A resident small-game license would go from $19 to $22, and a resident deer license would increase from $26 to $30.
Fee-increase bills were introduced in the 2011 Legislature but went nowhere. Those same bills, which embody the DNR’s fee proposals, are still in play this year. No hearings have been held on the House bill yet, said Amy Zipko, committee administrator for the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. A hearing in the Senate could be held as early as Tuesday, said Bob Meier, DNR assistant commissioner for policy and government relations.
More than 50 hunting, fishing, conservation and environmental groups have signed on in support of fee increases. The groups, from Pheasants Forever to Audubon Minnesota to Trout Unlimited, sent a letter to legislative leaders March 1 urging support for fee adjustments.
“I think most folks support an increase,” said Scott VanValkenburg of Fisherman’s Corner in Pike Lake. “If they see things like the French River (Hatchery) being shut down because of budget problems, people will want to keep things moving.”
The DNR’s cold-water hatchery already has had some production transferred to another hatchery, and anglers fear that without more revenue, the DNR may shut down the hatchery altogether.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said fee increases are still being discussed in the House, but he’d like to generate more support among House members before he brings a bill forward.
“I’d like something not only with majority support, but support on both sides of the aisle,” McNamara said. “It’s going to be a tough sell. In this day and age, it’s going to be a tough sell.”
That’s because many legislators who have vowed not to raise taxes see the license fee increases as a form of taxation, said Garry Leaf of Sportsmen for Change.
“The difference between a tax and a fee is compulsion,” Leaf said. “Hunting and fishing licenses are voluntary. That’s the main issue we’re facing. If it weren’t for that, this would already be done.”
Fishing license fees were last increased in 2001. Hunting license fees were last increased significantly in 2000. That interval between fee increases is the longest in 40 years, DNR officials said. Fees are a typically raised every few years to keep up with the cost of inflation.