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DNR seeks to increase license fees

WINDOM -- In the land of 10,000 lakes and ample public lands for sportsmen, fishing and hunting have a tremendous impact on Minnesota's economy. Yet, the agency tasked with ensuring those outdoor activities remain viable is facing a financial sho...

WINDOM - In the land of 10,000 lakes and ample public lands for sportsmen, fishing and hunting have a tremendous impact on Minnesota’s economy. Yet, the agency tasked with ensuring those outdoor activities remain viable is facing a financial shortfall.

The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that benefits so many projects for the outdoors in Minnesota contributes nothing to the state’s Department of Natural Resources for fish and wildlife operations and management. The same is true with Minnesota State Lottery proceeds.

Where does the DNR get its money to operate? From user fees.

“We don’t get general fund dollars. If you don’t buy a fishing license, that’s where it comes into play in our budget,” said DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor Ryan Doorenbos, who is based at Windom. If the Minnesota Legislature approves a fee increase, it would take effect in March 2018. If the request isn’t acted upon or denied, the state’s Game and Fish Fund is projected to be in the red by 2019.

“Then, essentially, we’re broke,” Doorenbos said.

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The last license fee increase approved by the state legislature took effect March 1, 2013. Doorenbos said that increase was $2 short per license of what the DNR requested. At that time, state leaders were told the DNR would be coming back to them sooner, rather than later, to request more funds.

Now, DNR staff are conducting public informational meetings across the state to spread their message. A meeting was scheduled Thursday night in Worthington but, because of the snowstorm, was postponed to 7:30 p.m. March 9 at the Elks Lodge.

“The groups we have talked to, a lot of the people are fine with it - they understand the issues,” Doorenbos said. “I think that a lot of times (with) these groups that show up to the meetings, we’re sort of preaching to the choir.”

In reality, the messages either for or against the proposed fee increases need to get to members of the Minnesota House and Senate. They will ultimately decide whether the DNR can institute a fee hike. Thus far, legislative companion bills have been presented to seek the modifications - HF 888 written by Reps. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) and Rick Hansen (DFL-S. St. Paul); and SF 723 written by Sens. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) and David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisolm). Gov. Mark Dayton included the increase in his budget proposal.

The proposal Proposed license fee increases range from 12 percent to 20 percent, with two new fees identified.

For anglers, the cost of a resident license would increase from $22 to $25 - less than the cost for a package of nightcrawlers. A resident combination license would increase from $35 to $40; while the non-resident angler license would rise from $45 to $51 and the non-resident family angler license from $60 to $68.

Deer hunters face a fee increase from $30 to $34 for residents and $165 to $185 for non-residents.

The two new fees proposed include a $15 shelter license for all wheeled ice-fishing houses (this is required now if the fish house is left overnight on a lake) and a $4 application fee to participate in the deer lottery for a doe permit.

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Doorenbos said the fee for the wheeled ice-fishing houses is due to damage caused to boat ramps.

“Most people probably do buy the license anyway because they have a permanent house,” he said. Implementing the fee for everyone, though, is projected to result in an additional $1 million in revenue.

Generating the most additional funding for the department will be the resident angling and resident deer licenses. The proposed $3 and $4 increases, respectively, will create an additional $1.36 million and $2.05 million for DNR operations and management.

Rising costs Doorenbos, along with DNR Area Wildlife Manager Bill Schuna at Slayton, say the fee increases are needed due to rising costs. If the money isn’t available, cuts will be necessary.

“Whether you’re talking about your home budget or your work budget, you have to ask, ‘What things can’t we deliver on because of costs?’” Doorenbos said. Already, he said he has a skeleton crew with him and four other men managing the fishery for 10 southwest Minnesota counties.

“Minus employee salaries, half my budget is literally trucks moving - driving to the hatchery, to Lake X to stock and back to the office,” Doorenbos said. “There’s no other alternative for getting fish to the water.”

In a lot of southwest Minnesota’s lakes, populations of certain fish - particularly walleyes - wouldn’t exist without stocking. Doorenbos said without the funding increase, fish stocking may have to be put on hold on some of the area’s lakes until finances improve.

It isn’t just the primary fishing lakes the DNR stocks. Doorenbos said panfish are being put in ponds throughout the area to encourage youth angling. Stocking has been done in ponds in Luverne, Edgerton and Pipestone, and on Talcot Lake.

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Other work by the fisheries department has concentrated on expanding northern pike populations, addressing invasive carp issues (legacy funds were used for some of that work) and expanding genetic diversity in walleye populations to improve in-lake natural reproduction.

“You can only do so much with x-amount of dollars,” Doorenbos said.

Even with the proposed increase, Doorenbos said he’s unsure if additional money will address the 16 current vacancies within the DNR Fisheries statewide.

“That tells you the dire need that we’re in,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the DNR Wildlife division, Schuna said the fee increases are needed to counteract inflation. Rising health insurance costs have taken a bigger bite out of the budget for operations and maintenance of the state’s wildlife areas.

“Hunting licenses pay for our core functions,” Schuna said. “We don’t get funds from the Outdoor Heritage Fund to pay for our salaries.”

Schuna said the number of hunting licenses sold in Minnesota has remained fairly steady over the years, but the revenue hasn’t kept up with the costs.

“It’s a very modest increase,” he said of the proposal. He also noted vacancies that aren’t being filled across the state.

“In the Slayton office we’re down one full-time (employee),” Schuna said. “At Talcot Lake, we had two people resign - seasonal laborers. We’re replacing them with temporary individuals that will be employed through the end of June.”

For more information regarding the proposed fee increases, visit http://bit.ly/2mtdkwo .

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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