The 2019 Minnesota legislative session ended last weekend with a budget agreement between the divided Republican (Senate) and Democratic (House and governor) government but mixed news for outdoor enthusiasts.
Perhaps the biggest win was new money to battle chronic wasting disease, the always fatal deer disease that is spreading in Minnesota's wild deer herd and in captive deer farms.
Lawmakers approved, and the governor signed, legislation aiming $1.87 million from the state's general tax fund to fight CWD along with another $2.85 million from the state's Game and Fish Fund that's stocked with license fee revenue.
The Department of Natural Resources had sought the entire amount from the general fund hoping to spread the cost among all residents and not just hunters. But Bob Meier, the DNR's legislative liaison, said late budget negotiations cut that general fund total back. The money will go toward monitoring, surveillance, testing and - where needed - culling CWD-infected deer in the wild. The DNR had been paying for those efforts with money from other areas.
"It was badly needed because that money had been coming out of other programs'' within DNR, Meier said.
CWD is now spreading among wild deer in southeastern Minnesota and has spread around a badly infected deer farm near Brainerd to wild deer in that area as well.
The new legislation also requires owners of deer farms to "depopulate'' their herd immediately after CWD is found on their property. In the past, the choice to depopulate was up to the farm owner.
Other new laws - which go into effect Aug. 1 - call for increased high-tensile fencing and double gates at deer farms and a provision for deer farms to lose their licenses if captive deer are confirmed to have escaped the property. The Legislature also authorized more money for inspections of farms and more money to the University of Minnesota to find a new CWD test that can be done faster and cheaper and, hopefully, one that can be used on live animals. Currently, only dead animals can be tested.
In other outdoors relate legislative news, lawmakers:
• Made NO changes to state policy on wolf hunting. If the animal indeed comes off federal endangered status, which remains uncertain, wolf management would revert to the DNR which is likely to resume wolf hunting and trapping seasons based on existing statutes. Wolf supporters had hoped for a ban on sport wolf hunting.
• Authorized $175,000 for a new statewide ice safety program, through the DNR, to remind people that traveling on frozen waters is never completely safe. The move comes as ice fishing surges in popularity and as more incidents occur with people breaking through thin ice.
• Did NOT approve allowing two fishing lines for all state waters. Current laws on fishing lines - generally one line for most waters for open water fishing - will continue.
• Did NOT approve language allowing an all-terrain vehicle campground across Highway 169 from the new Lake Vermilion State Park campground. The drive-in ATV-access campground, long in the plans for the new state park, still needs a change in state park regulations to allow ATV use, as well as funding to build the new campground.
• Continued funding for the Hill Annex Mine State Park near Hibbing to continue operations.
• Authorized an increase in the boat licenses surcharge for aquatic invasive species from $5 to $10.60. (The license fee is paid every three years.) The extra money, about $1.76 million annually will go to DNR to prevent the spread of invasive species to new waterways. (The Legislature also continued funding it's grant program to counties for invasive species prevention.)
• Approved general budget increases for state agencies like DNR to cover increased labor, insurance and other inflationary costs. Without the increase DNR has threatened it may need to close many services at several state parks, including several campgrounds.
Hermantown runner seeks Superior Hiking Trail speed record
It would take most of us at least a month, or even a summer, to hike the 310 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail, from the Ontario border to Jay Cooke State Park west of Duluth.
Last fall a world-class hiker - Ajay Pickett, a 32-year-old native of Woodbury, Minn. - did it in 7 days, 20 hours and 56 minutes carrying a backpack and his own supplies
This weekend a runner hopes to do it in about 3 days, 14 hours and change. Yes, that's nearly 100 miles per day. Experienced long-distance runner Michael Koppy of Hermantown was scheduled to leave the Ontario side of the trail Saturday. You can follow his effort at https://us0-share.inreach.garmin.com/EVERYONENEEDSWILDERNESS . Koppy will not be carrying a pack; he'll get supplies and support along the way.
Koppy, 68, is running to raise awareness of, and to generate support for, the Superior Hiking Trail Association. He and his wife, Carol Bonde, have included a significant donation to the Superior Hiking Trail Association in their estate plan. "I run on the SHT all the time and feel so connected to it. It's a real gem, and we are so fortunate to have it in our backyard,'' Koppy said in a statement.
Koppy is asking supporters to donate money for each mile he runs. He's promised to match those donations up to $5,000.
For more information on the trail go to superiorhiking.org.
Border canoe route record set
Two Minnesota paddlers, Matthew Peterson of Aitkin and Peter Wagner of Minneapolis, last week set a record for the canoe traverse across the Minnesota-Ontario border - from Rainy Lake on the west to Lake Superior on the east - following the route of the Voyageurs.
The two canoed/portaged May 25-28 the 216.7-mile route in just 69 hours, 25 minutes, breaking the old record of 80 hours and 40 minutes set in 1968. Wagner told the News Tribune that the two "never slept" but rested briefly at portages where they would consume mass quantities of calories eating MREs.
Volunteer loon monitors needed
The Department of Natural Resources is seeking volunteers for its loon monitoring program to count the number of adult and juvenile loons on pre-selected lakes. The annual loon count gives the DNR the ability to detect changes in the adult loon population and to anticipate any problems that could jeopardize the future of loons in Minnesota.
Volunteers are needed for one morning between June 28 and July 8 to help count loons on 150 specific lakes in Aitkin, Becker, Crow Wing, Cook, Itasca, Kandiyohi, Lake, and Otter Tail counties. Surveys must be done sometime between 5 a.m. and noon.
Detailed instructions, training materials, maps and a data form will be provided. The time commitment is two to four hours per lake.
Funding for a new online registration system for volunteers was provided by the Minnesota United soccer team, whose mascot is a loon. To see what lakes need a volunteer survey or to sign up, go to mndnr.gov/eco/nongame/projects/mlmp_state.html and click on "Volunteer Map."
For questions or more information, contact Bry Persing at 218-735-3962 or firstname.lastname@example.org.