Deer hunters, anglers, state park visitors, boaters, ATV riders, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers would pay more for licenses, passes and registration fees under a budget proposal to the Legislature by the Dayton administration.
Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Wednesday the governor’s proposed DNR budget seeks to restore funding to programs that are slipping toward deficits, maintain other programs at current levels and make strategic investments.
If new fees are approved, the agency’s budget would increase by $76 million, or 8 percent, to $1.07 billion in overall spending for the 2018-19 biennial budget period.
Of that increase, $36.8 million would come from the various user fees. A resident fishing license, for instance, would increase from $22 to $25. A standard deer hunting license would increase similarly from $30 to $34.
The last increase for hunting and fishing licenses came in 2011 in a legislative package that was less than what the DNR requested.
“It’s always a tough ask at the Capitol,” Landwehr said when asked about the prospects for immediate approval by the Legislature.
He admitted time to impress legislators is short, with the new biennium starting July 1. The proposed license and fee increases are projected to last for six years, he said.
Sam Fettig, press secretary for Gov. Mark Dayton, said the governor is depending on Landwehr and his staff to make the case for increases.
DNR Budget Director Emily Engel and DNR Chief Financial Officer Barb Juelich said less than 1 percent of the agency’s operating budget is derived from the state’s general fund.
Legacy Funds contribute $72 million every two years and another chunk comes from a federal excise tax on hunting and fishing gear.
At a news conference in St. Paul, Landwehr said 13 percent of the agency’s request is for new investments, including $5 million for reforestation on state lands, $4 million for a new computer system for forestry management and $2 million for parks and trails investments, including new wireless capabilities at state parks.
Under the governor’s budget request, a one-year state park permit would rise from $25 to $30.
John Lenczewski, executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited, said the state can’t afford to reduce its efforts to maintain healthy populations of wildlife. He said hunting and fishing are a $5.4 billion annual economic engine in Minnesota. Moreover, hunting, fishing and other outdoors activities are “woven into our culture,” he said.
“The licenses in this state are a bargain,” said Lenczewski, who sits on a citizen oversight committee that examines DNR spending.
The biggest DNR fund heading for a spending deficit is the Game and Fish Fund, the primary fund that pays for fish and wildlife management.
Its year-end fund balance is projected to fall into the red in fiscal 2019, down from a $20 million positive fund balance at the end of fiscal 2016.
Already the DNR is delaying or canceling habitat and research projects, reducing fish stocking efforts and ordering fewer biological surveys and assessments to slow the spiral, the agency said.
Other proposed fee increases in the budget include $1 more for a daily park permit that now costs $5; a jump from $27 to $45 for a three-year pleasure boat registration (for boats 17 feet to 19 feet long); a jump from $75 to $105 for a three-year snowmobile registration and a $2 increase for a daily ski pass, to $7.
The DNR also would more than double its watercraft surcharge for controlling aquatic invasive species from $5 to $12. Nonresidents would pay $51 for a standard fishing license, up from $45.
And nonresident deer licenses would increase in cost from $165 to $185.
Here are key elements of Dayton’s DNR budget proposal:
Game and Fish Fund
The Game and Fish Fund is expected to slip into a deficit starting in 2019. To maintain the fund’s basic level of services, the governor’s budget proposes increasing fishing and deer-hunting license fees. Under this plan, a resident annual angling license would be raised by $3 (from $22 to $25), while a non-resident annual angling license would be boosted by $6 (from $45 to $51). A resident deer hunting license would increase from $30 to $34; a nonresident deer hunting license would increase from $165 to $185.
Parks and Trails
State park permit fees have not been raised since 2003, while visits, as evidenced by permit sales, have increased by about 30 percent in just the last three years. The governor’s budget proposal would increase daily park permit fees by $1 (from $5 to $6) per day. Annual permits would rise in cost by $5 per year (from $25 to $30). The fee increase as well as $9.3 million in new General Fund money would be used to support parks and trails operations.
Outdoors protection and safety
The governor’s budget proposal also includes $5.5 million from the general fund to assist in filling 21 empty conservation officer stations across the state. Each conservation officer’s patrol area averages 650 square miles, which means there are 13,650 square miles in the state that don’t have adequate natural resource protection. That is an area larger than the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined.
Recreational and trail accounts
State funds that help maintain more than 21,000 miles of snowmobile and all-terrain grant-in-aid trails are projected to go into deficits starting in fiscal year 2018. The water recreation account, which supports boat access and safety programs and other water-related efforts, is also projected to go into a deficit in fiscal year 2018. Minnesota’s cross-country ski fund, which maintains more than 700 miles of ski trails, currently is unable to cover trail grooming at DNR facilities across the state.
The governor’s budget proposes the following adjustments: to raise the three year registration fees for snowmobiles by $10 per year (from $75 to $105) and ATVs by $5 per year (from $45 to $60); three year boat registration fees would increase in a range from $2 to $60, depending on length of watercraft. For example, fees for a 17-19 foot watercraft would increase by $18. The state’s daily ski pass would rise by $2 (from $5 to $7).
Forests and clean water
The governor’s proposed budget includes $2.5 million from the general fund to reforest state lands. This investment will help support the state’s important forest-products industry and includes $500,000 to complete a study of sustainable timber harvest on state lands.
The governor’s budget also proposes to adjust the annual watercraft surcharge fee from $5 to $12 to fight aquatic invasive species and support research for long-term control methods. (The surcharge was last increased from $2 to $5 in 1993.) The governor’s proposal includes $18.5 million from the Clean Water Fund for the DNR’s work to fix and prevent water pollution and prevent overuse of groundwater. With this funding, the DNR monitors and manages water use and provides local government and other state agencies with the information, analytical tools, and expertise needed to focus their water quality efforts most effectively.
The governor’s proposal includes $4 million to replace the agency’s aging forestry data system. This will help improve the quality and timeliness of forest management decisions. This initiative is part of the governor’s proposed $51 million in IT improvements to build a modern digital infrastructure that will ensure state government works at the speed of business. Additionally, the governor’s budget would invest $2.1 million from the general fund to upgrade and modernize the DNR’s website so customers have greater access to recreation information and mobile-friendly applications.