Invasive-species boating bill advances

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 28, 2012 - 3:14 PM

Proposal calls for inspection stations, tougher fines and required training. Senate could call for vote this weekend.

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The bill affecting boaters gives the Department of Natural Resources authority to establish inspection stations near water accesses; boat inspections would be mandatory at those sites.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Minnesota's 800,000 boaters would be required to pass a course on how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species before they could trailer their boats anywhere, under a bill passed Friday by the Minnesota House.

The Senate could vote on the bill this weekend.

Another bill in play at the Legislature would raise hunting and fishing license fees, establish a wolf hunting season, and retain this year's fishing opener on May 12 instead of moving it a week earlier.

The bill affecting boaters gives the Department of Natural Resources authority to establish inspection stations near water accesses; boat inspections would be mandatory at those sites. It also would double fines 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, would double to $100. Those caught putting equipment with invasive plants attached into the water would pay a $200 fine. And those possessing or transporting invasive animals, such as zebra mussels, could be fined $500.

Boaters will have to pay a fee to take the online invasive species course, but officials aren't sure how much it will cost. The course hasn't been developed and won't begin until 2015.

"We want to make it easy for people,'' said Luke Skinner, DNR invasive species supervisor.

Those passing it would get a trailer decal allowing them to transport their boat. Although the decal would be mandatory, a violation would be punishable only by a warning. People hauling other water-related equipment, such as docks or boat lifts, also would have to pass the course.

Meanwhile, a provision to open the fishing season on May 5 was rejected by a conference committee hammering out a large-game and fish bill. It would raise the cost of a fishing license from $17 to $22. A small-game license would rise from $19 to $22, and a deer license would go from $26 to $30. Fees haven't risen in 11 years, and the DNR says it will have to cut game and fish programs without one.

The bill also establishes a wolf hunting season next fall. A license would cost $30 for residents, $250 for nonresidents. And it funds the state's fledgling walk-in hunter access program, without a $15 fee to hunters that had been proposed.

A major issue in the bill -- one that may threaten its passage -- is 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 the ranges are not designed for public use, and some metro legislators have threatened to vote against the bill because of the provision.

The League of Minnesota Cities opposed the bill.

To garner support, gun ranges in Minneapolis and St. Paul were exempted from the requirement, and funds to help pay for range expenses were added during the conference committee meeting Thursday. But Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, who voted against the bill, said the changes may not be enough for support from metro legislators.

"I just don't know if it helps,'' she said.

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