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Scott Rall: The shenanigans continue

SCOTT RALL Daily Globe outdoors columnist When the Minnesota Legislature is in session, there are many things that happen that have a great effect on the game fish and wildlife of our great state. Some of it is usually good and some of it is usua...

 

SCOTT RALL

Daily Globe outdoors columnist

When the Minnesota Legislature is in session, there are many things that happen that have a great effect on the game fish and wildlife of our great state.

Some of it is usually good and some of it is usually not so good. This session it appears that there is only going to be the “not so good” stuff and in some cases it,s downright awful.

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Let’s take the license fee increase bill as a starter. I had the great opportunity to visit with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commissioner Tom Landwehr this week. I have known the commissioner since before he had this job and he has held this position for about six years under Gov. Dayton.

He is a quality guy who has his heart in the right place.  He cares deeply about our state and I am a staunch supporter of his.  Please remember that no matter how well you do the job of commissioner, there will always be hordes of naysayers who will disagree with every decision.

I asked him just what would happen if the license fee increase that the department has asked for does not pass this session. The Minnesota House and Senate have both passed their own bills regarding the department’s budget and neither of them have the fee increase currently included in them.  

Tom shared with me that there are already 20 empty spots in the enforcement division and these are primarily empty stations that have no conservation officers to enforce the game and fish laws.  He added that there are about 40 empty job slots in the fish and wildlife department and these are primarily field staff who do the ground work like stocking lakes and maintaining the habitat on public lands. These are being held vacant because of the looming funds shortage.

If the fee increase does not pass this year, then none of these positions will get filled.  If the fee increase does not pass next year the number of vacancies could double or even triple if the current situation continues. I love it when the politicians say that we don't need any more public lands, and that we should take care of the lands we already have, and then cut or restrict the very budgets that would do exactly what they demand.

No fee increase this session will result in a direct and noticeable decline in the amount of work that will get done to provide and maintain quality hunting and fishing in our state. Forty-eight different habitat organizations, environmental groups and sportsmans clubs signed on to a letter supporting the fee increase that was sent to our legislative leadership.  

The rank and file citizens in the state want to keep the quality of our hunting and fishing at its current levels and are willing to pay for it. The fact that the politicians choose to ignore this is just another stab in the back of Minnesota residents with a “we know better than you do attitude” that I just can’t stand.

I asked Commissioner Landwehr what they were doing to become more efficient so they did not need as much money every year.  He explained that any cost-saving measure makes some affected residents unhappy.  They recently closed the French River fish hatchery because it was just too costly to continue for the return they were getting.

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More of the habitat work is being contracted out. He explained that these types of efficiency measures were ongoing on a daily basis within the department he leads.

The Department tried to close a golf course that was bleeding money and consuming 65 percent of the state park budget at Fort Ridgely State Park and the politicians prohibited them from doing so. So even whey they try to be efficient they can not always be successful.

Another efficiency effort that was completed last year was to downsize the fleet of cars and trucks the department uses and the net result was a reduction of 200,000 gallons of fuel used by that fleet.

In the end, it takes money to do the things we love and it takes money to maintain the outdoor experiences we desire at the levels we desire them. A fee increase only affects those who choose to participate.

It is not a tax increase across the board. If you care about natural resources in this state you should support this effort.

The other big issue that is coming from the Legislature is something I mentioned a few weeks back, and it appears to be snowballing down a hill in a very bad direction, and that is the Legacy Bill. This is the bill that funds the projects recommended by the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.  

This is the council I served on for six years. They are eight citizens and four politicians who make spending recommendations on about 100 million of game fish and wildlife projects funded every year. It was set up in state law that this be a citizens’ council to help keep politics out of the equation.

The House Republicans decided that this was a good time to take a politician who just retired last year and add him to the council as a citizen member. He is not a bad guy, in fact I like him, but this appointment goes against the wishes of the voters in Minnesota.

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All of the bad ideas that were injected by the House Republicans have stayed in this legacy bill through the past three weeks.  They changed the funding amounts and who gets them, and in my opinion, they did so to suit what they want and not what the citizens of Minnesota want.

They also made it almost impossible to acquire any additional public lands. In our part of the state, public lands provide much of the hunting for pheasants, ducks and deer.  We need more of these lands, not less.

Commissioner Landwehr indicated that this session seems to have a very strong anti-conservation and even an anti-hunting feel to it.

You can look up you legislator at www.leg.state.mn.us to see who represents you. It is crunch time and in only a few short days all that will be let to do is complain if you do not like the outcome and did not act now. Please act now.

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