Legislature list is heavy on matters of outdoors

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON
  • April 14, 2012 - 4:22 PM

Decisions will be made swiftly this week and next in the Legislature affecting hunting, fishing, conservation and the environment.

Bills deciding everything from the date the fishing season will open next month, to wetland protection, state land sales, donated venison and the sale of hunting and fishing licenses during government shutdowns will be fine-tuned and brought to the House and Senate floors.

Measures approved by the two chambers will be referred to conference committees to resolve differences among them, before being returned for final House and Senate votes and ultimately forwarded to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature -- or veto.

Here's a short list of hot-button items to watch:

• Hunting and fishing license fee increases. The Senate has looked favorably on hiking these fees modestly. But a companion bill wasn't heard in the House. The Game and Fish Fund is running on empty, and the DNR says without fee boosts, further cuts in DNR staff and programs will be necessary, including game-bird and other surveys, and walleye stocking, among other programs. For Dayton the increases are a priority, and a chance exists he'll veto a game and fish bill if the hikes aren't included.

• Weakened wetland and water quality protections in the House Omnibus Environment policy bill could warrant a Dayton veto unless they're excluded from a final proposal. The House bill, for example, ties the state's water quality standards to the federal government's (which don't exist), significantly alters the state permit-issuing review process, reduces the power of the Executive Council in timber and mining decisions and restricts the amount the DNR can pay for acquired property to the point where it could have difficulty finding willing sellers.

• The state's prohibition from regulating donated venison, contained in House and Senate bills, is also opposed by Dayton. The House bill also would allow snowmobile operation without displayed registration numbers and require publicly funded shooting ranges to open four times a year for firearms safety instruction -- a provision that sheriffs, police chiefs and the Corrections Department oppose. The bill also repeals the venison donation program and transfers $750,000 from it to the Walk In Access program.

• The DNR says any game and fish bill sent to the governor must allow the agency to regulate the importation of minnows from infested waters outside Minnesota that contain Asian carp. The reference here, primarily, is to South Dakota, a major source of minnows brought into the state (though not for resale to anglers) and in whose waters Asian carp have been found.

• The House bill also requires the state to exchange state-owned Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness lands with the Forest Service on an acre-for-acre basis, rather than by lands of equal value.

• The House Legacy bill funds the Mississippi Northwoods project at only $7 million, while the Senate is at $14 million. The project is a priority for the governor. The House Legacy bill also funds invasive species research, a first for these monies that could open the door for similar future allocations. Typically, research is paid for by lottery and other funds.

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