Boaters would have to take a course on invasive species to legally trailer their boats, a wolf hunting season would be held this fall and hunting and fishing license fees would be raised, under two bills passed by the Legislature on Saturday and sent to Gov. Mark Dayton.
Dayton is expected to sign the game and fish bill increasing fees and setting the state's first wolf season, but his support for the policy bill affecting the state's 800,000 boaters is uncertain because of several unrelated controversial provisions.
The state's hunting and fishing licenses haven't been increased in 11 years, and the Department of Natural Resources said its game and fish fund would go into the red without increases.
"It was a long time coming,'' said Bob Meier, DNR assistant commissioner. "Now we can ensure Minnesota remains a great state for hunting and fishing.''
The bill OKed by the House on Saturday night on a 68-62 vote and by the Senate 34-28 a few hours later would raise the cost of a fishing license, now $17, to $22. A small game license would increase from $19 to $22, and a deer license would increase from $26 to $30. It also directs 50 cents from deer licenses for wolf management.
The increases will go into effect March 1, 2013, if Dayton signs the bill into law.
A proposal to open the fishing season a week earlier this season was dropped from the bill.
Several legislators voted against the bill because of a provision requiring publicly owned or managed shooting ranges in the seven-country metro area to be made available at least four times a year for firearms safety instruction courses for youths. The proposal has drawn widespread opposition from law enforcement agencies and municipalities, who say their police shooting ranges are not designed for public use. Ranges in Minneapolis and St. Paul were exempt.
The controversial wolf season also drew some opposition.
Under the bill, the wolf hunting season would open the same day as the firearms deer hunting season. The DNR would set a 400-wolf quota. A license to hunt or trap wolves would cost $30 for residents. A nonresident wolf hunting license would cost $250, but nonresidents couldn't trap wolves. The restitution for a wolf taken illegally, now $2,000, would drop to $500.
To encourage young hunters, anglers and trappers, prices of licenses to hunt turkeys and deer or to trap furbearers for 13- to 18-year-olds will be lowered to $5. And those 16 to 18 can buy a small game license for $5. (Licenses are free for hunters 15 and under.)
A fishing license for 16- and 17-year-olds also will be $5.
Hunters also can buy a new 72-hour small game license costing $19, allowing a person to hunt pheasants or ducks without buying additional stamps. A similar 72-hour fishing license would cost $12, and a new three-year fishing license would cost $63.
The bill reduces the cost for spearers. A spearing license, now $17, would cost $5, but spearers must possess fishing licenses, too.
Nonresident hunting and fishing fees also would be increased. A nonresident small game license, now $73, would cost $90.50; a deer license, now $135, would cost $160; a nonresident fishing license, now $37.50, would cost $40.
Under the policy bill, passed by the House Friday and the Senate on Saturday, boaters passing the online course would get a trailer decal that would allow them to transport their boat. Though the decal would be mandatory, a violation is punishable only by a warning. It would go into effect July 1, 2015. Those hauling other water-related equipment, such as docks or boat lifts, also would have to pass the course.
Fines would be doubled for those caught violating invasive species laws. The fine for failing to remove a drain plug from a boat, or transporting a boat or trailer with aquatic invasive plants attached, now $50, also would jump to $100. Those caught putting equipment with invasive plants attached into waters would pay a $200 fine. Those possessing or transporting invasive animals, such as zebra mussels, could be fined $500.
But Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said a provision relaxes wetland protection. "I think the goal is to drain more wetlands,'' he said. "I won't be voting for it.''
Trapping and dogs
The game and fish bill tightens restrictions on the use of body-gripping traps, though the DNR and some dog owners fear the restrictions don't go far enough and dogs still will be accidentally trapped and killed. At least seven dogs have been killed in traps since last fall. The bills requires the trap trigger to be recessed 7 inches or more from the top of the enclosure, or it must be elevated 3 feet from the ground. "That approach is untested; we have no information on how effective that will be,'' said Ed Boggess, DNR fish and wildlife chief. The DNR had proposed regulations similar to those used in Wisconsin and other states.
Said Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, who opposed the measure: "This is a dog killer.''
The bill also funds the state's fledgling walk-in hunter access program, without a $15 fee to hunters that had been proposed. It would take $600,000 from the current venison donation program and money from nonresident fishing licenses.
Under the program, the state pays willing landowners to allow public hunting on their lands. Depending on how many acres are enrolled, the funding in the bill could last for two or three more years.