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Scott Rall: Expanding the base is the only solution

Scott RallDaily Globe outdoors columnist I was doing a little reading the other day and came across a column about the Minnesota DNR Roundtable. The roundtable has been an annual event hosted by the DNR for invited stakeholders from all over the ...

Scott Rall
Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

I was doing a little reading the other day and came across a column about the Minnesota DNR Roundtable.
The roundtable has been an annual event hosted by the DNR for invited stakeholders from all over the state to voice their concerns to DNR top brass about issues that they feel are important regarding Minnesota’s natural resources. There was a speaker there from Oregon who talked about the future of wildlife conservation and natural resources funding.
I did not hear the speaker in person, so what I got was second-hand from the other writer’s perspective. The point that was conveyed in the article by the speaker was that the way game, fish and wildlife - along with all of their associated habitats - cannot be managed in the next 100 years in the same manner that they were managed in the past 100 years.
I could not agree more. There is no debate that over the past 100 years almost all of the money that has been collected and spent on managing wildlife and wildlife habitat has come from the fees paid by hunters and fishermen. It is these fees that provide the bulk of the budget for almost all of the states’ wildlife agency budgets.
When you add onto that the money raised by the excise tax paid by hunters and fishermen on guns, ammunition and fishing gear, there are many more millions that have gone into the pot for the same cause. In addition to the direct fees and dollars collected from hunters, there are many millions spent on tourism to the states that these sportsmen travel to in any given year.
So if this funding method has worked for the past 100 years, why won’t it continue to work today? The answer is that with all of the electronics attractions that youth have today, there are fewer and fewer kids taking up hunting. In addition to that, there are far more options when it comes to school athletics that in decades past. All of these other options are making the number of youth participating continue to decline.
Add onto that the fact that the average duck hunter in the state and across the nation is on the long side of 50. Waterfowl hunting is hard work, and as the average age of hunters increases their numbers start to decline as well.
There has been a movement over the past decade or so to increase the size of the pool that the fees are collected from. Let’s look at a few that should be considered but up to this point have not been added.
How about bird watchers and wildlife photographers? They use the same wildlife lands by the hundreds of thousands and they do not have to pay a fee to do so. A hunter pays to hunt, a fisherman pays to fish and the bird watcher or photographer pays nothing to use and enjoy those same lands.
Another user that gets a free ride to use wildlife areas is a bike rider; mountain bikers in particular. An ATV driver pays a fee every year or at least every other year. A snowmobile rider pays a fee on the same schedule. Biking and wildlife trail riding is big business and they have needs and wants when they use these areas like every other user. Why then are they not required to get a wildlife habitat pass or trail fee sticker when utilizing the same property?
Camping enthusiasts camp by a lake or stream that has used fees collected from hunters and fishermen to help keep the water clean, keep boat ramps in good shape and protect them from aquatic invasive species. I don’t think you can charge a camping outdoor fee, but you sure could add camping gear to the list of things the excise tax is collected on to help maintain these important aquatic places.
At the end of the day the speaker at the roundtable, Jim Martin, has the same thought process as I do. There is not likely going to be enough hunters and fishermen around to pay the whole freight for all of the necessary wildlife habitat management that needs to take place over the next 100 years. We need to broaden the base of people who care about these issues.
If the funding methods do not change, state wildlife agencies might very well collapse in the next 25 years, according to Mr. Martin. In addition to increasing the base, we need to look at the impending size of issues that we are likely to face in upcoming decades.
The speaker made the point that due to climate change the snow melt in the Rocky Mountains in the Pacific Northwest is projected to be less than one half its current volume several decades in the future even as the population in the area is projected to increase 300 to 400 percent. This presents huge problems for salmon and other fish in these systems. The human consumption of water from these systems is likely to increase measurably in the years to come as well, and the amount of water available is expected to be half of what is currently available today.
How can a fisherman who pays a fishing license fee be expected to contribute enough when the problems we face in the future are so much larger than just the decline of salmon or other fish?
The speaker projected the audience forward a few decades and shared a story about a dad, mom and child who learned about the plight of the pollinators and butterflies and wanted to do something to help out. They donated to causes that work to save these important aspects of the ecosystem, planted milkweeds in their flower garden and in the process they educated the neighbor, and so on and so on until we have an entire society that is motivated to take a much more active role in all sorts of projects that benefit our natural places and, in turn, the animals that live in them. It became a world where everyone participated in the management of game, fish and wildlife - not just those who pursued it with a rod or gun.
What a day that would be if this could happen on a nationwide scale. We have done exactly that in Nobles County on a very small scale. We have combined the protection, preservation and conservation of water resources into the same pot as game fish and wildlife habitat protection. Every entity gets the results they need to meet their missions and everyone pulls together to make the funding packages required for all to benefit.
The issues that face us all, whether it be clean water or wildlife and its habitats, are too big to be solved by a small section of the population. The faster we find a way to work together for common goals, the better off we will all be.

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