A state Senate finance chairman has blocked the flow of $1.27 million in federal grant money for loon conservation, delaying a Minnesota plan to reduce the use of lead fishing tackle.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said he won’t stop the grant money and merely wants to educate members of his Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee. But the indefinite stoppage has irked fellow legislators and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The money is for a public awareness campaign to encourage anglers to switch from lead sinkers and jigs to nontoxic alternatives.
“The MPCA doesn’t understand why the hold hasn’t been lifted since loon conservation is a common-sense priority for every Minnesotan,’’ MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop’s office said in a prepared statement.
Ingebrigtsen said he’ll release the money after holding a committee hearing. But state Rep. Rick Hansen, D-South St. Paul, has prepared a bill to unlock the money, if necessary.
“For gosh sakes this is about the BP oil spill and loons,’’ said Hansen, Ingebrigtsen’s House counterpart.
MPCA senior adviser Darin Broton said details of the MPCA’s “Get the Lead Out” campaign have been public since before Sept. 25, when the application was made to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. A larger federal appropriation for loon habitat work in Minnesota was accepted last month without question. Both grants derive from a national settlement over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
DNR retiree Carrol Henderson, who worked years to secure a share of those funds, said he can’t recall another time when Minnesota “turned down’’ significant federal grants for fish and wildlife conservation.
Henderson and Hansen both said they suspect the holdup is related to industry opposition to programs that discourage the use of lead in hunting ammunition and fishing gear. Federal Ammunition is a major employer in Anoka. In addition, gun rights activists say lead ammunition is under attack by anti-hunting groups.
Ingebrigtsen said lead has nothing to do with his interruption of the funding. He met with Bishop at the Capitol on Dec. 13 to air his concern that the MPCA might use the grant to add permanent employees.
“It just never ends. I wanted to hold their feet to the fire,’’ Ingebrigtsen said. “It has really dusted everybody up a little bit.’’
Broton said the agency answered the senator’s questions and has been waiting for him to schedule a hearing and move on.
The grant could have started Jan. 1 to fund statewide education and outreach events, the MPCA said. Based on DNR field work and University of Minnesota examinations of dead loons, Henderson said it’s possible that 100 to 200 loons die per year from lead poisoning. The birds ingest sinkers and jigs when they consume grit on lake bottoms to help them digest food. The same phenomena is killing swans.