Taking advantage of federal funds available due in part to increased gun and ammunition sales in recent years, the Department of Natural Resources is proposing to accelerate fish and wildlife programs, while also adding nearly a dozen conservation officers in the coming biennium.
Under a budget being proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton to the Legislature, the DNR would use available Game and Fish Fund money to improve fisheries population surveys, create forest wildlife habitat,expand grassland and prairie habitat, improve monitoring and management of wildlife populations and create more outdoor opportunities for kids and families.
Dayton’s DNR budget seeks $5.4 million in fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1, and $5.1 million in fiscal 2017. Those expenditures would trigger reimbursements from the federal government of $6.1 million, reducing the state’s two-year, $10.5 million cost to $4.4 million. No money would come from the state’s general fund.
The federal reimbursements are appropriated to states based on excise taxes gained from gun and ammunition sales and the sale of certain other outdoor equipment.
Dayton's DNR plan calls for 11 additional conservation officers, seven in fiscal 2016, which begins July 1, and four the following year. The additional officers would reduce by about half the number of vacant officer stations statewide. DNR enforcement also is proposing to update some of its aircraft, perhaps in concert with the State Patrol, said DNR enforcement division director Col. Ken Soring.
Additionally, seven fulltime people would be added to the game and fish staff, six in fisheries and one in wildlife. The new hires would account for about 13 percent of proposed spending on fish and wildlife management.
“Fishing and hunting are important parts of Minnesota’s heritage,” said fish and wildlife division director Ed Boggess. “The dollars anglers and hunters spend to hunt and fish in Minnesota are the primary funding source for fish and wildlife management and the quality outdoor experiences Minnesota offers.”
Fishing and hunting generate an estimated $3.2 billion in annual retail expenditures in Minnesota and support 48,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Specifically, according to the DNR, increased funding provided by the governor’s fish and wildlife budget proposal would:
• Improve management of lakes, streams and rivers by conducting more population and creel surveys.
• Help southern and western Minnesota landowners create grassland and prairie habitat.
• Develop outdoor opportunities and provide skill-building programs for youth, adults and families.
• Improve management of Minnesota’s 5,000 shallow lakes.
• Create improved habitat for moose, grouse, pine marten and other forest wildlife.
• Expand shooting range access and the number of ranges for archery and firearms.
• Improve DNR online and mobile tools such as Fish Minnesota (www.mndnr.gov/fishmn) and Recreation Compass (www.mndnr.gov/mobile/compass).
• Improve aquatic habitat monitoring and management.
• Maintain long-term monitoring of how key lakes change as the climate warms.
• Allow wildlife researchers to investigate the impact of contaminants on grouse and pheasants.
• Provide funding for wildlife research on prairie chickens, grouse, waterfowl, pheasants, furbearers, bear, wolf, squirrel, elk, deer and moose.
• Improve facilities such as parking lots and accesses on wildlife and aquatic management areas.
• Ensure commercial natural resource activities are sustainable, while providing other resource protections by adding 11officers to the DNR's enforcement contingent.
The Land Trust Alliance on Tuesday praised support that is gaining in the U.S. House for a bill that renews tax incentives for conserving land through conservation easements.
The Conservation Easement Incentive Act, introduced last year by Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Penn.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif), would make permanent the enhanced tax incentives created in 2006 to help landowners preserve farms, ranches, forests and historical sites in protected easements, working in partnership with land trusts – nonprofit conservation organizations.
Land trusts have conserved more than 47 million acres, an increase of roughly 10 million acres since 2005.
The bill now has 219 co-sponsors in the House, said Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance.
The Land Trust Alliance is the national association representing 1,700 land trusts, which have more than 100,000 volunteers and 5 million members nationwide.
The incentive, which enabled private landowners to conserve a million acres a year, expired Jan 1.
From a Land Trust Alliance press release:
"The enhanced incentive, first passed in 2006, has expired repeatedly since passage including the end of last year. “This on-again, off-again incentive makes it nearly impossible to educate and encourage potential land donors to enter a conservation easement program,” said Wentworth. “It's difficult for landowners to donate what is perhaps their largest monetary asset — the future development rights of their lands — if the threat of the end of the tax incentive is constantly looming.”
"Conservation easements set aside land at a fraction of what it would cost for the federal government to purchase and supervise the land, and the land remains on the tax rolls. Moreover, the cost of working with private landowners to maintain these easements is born by nonprofit land trusts rather than the government.
“Conservation easements are a voluntary, market-based solution to ensure healthy food, clean waters and sustainable communities for all Americans,” Wentworth said. “If conservation is going to be permanent, then the law that provides this important tax incentive should be as well.”
"Although the bill has a solid backing, there are a limited number of legislative days left in the Congress to get the work done. “The enhanced conservation tax credit deserves consideration on the House floor,” Wentworth added.
"Sixty-five national organizations – including The Nature Conservancy, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited, American Farm Bureau Federation, Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society – also back the idea of making the enhanced conservation tax credit permanent.''
This spring, a federal agency announced that Asian carp eggs had been discovered in Pool 9 of the Mississippi River, about 250 miles farther north than reproducing populations of these carp were thought to have existed.
The finding stunned fisheries researchers and managers, and added urgency to plans already in place to stop the carp from swimming further upstream and establishing footholds in the Mississippi as far north as the Twin Cities, and in the Minnesota and St. Croix rivers.
Federal fisheries managers had concluded by visual inspection that the eggs were those of either silver or bighead carp.
Now the U.S. Geological Survey says the eggs are not those of any of the four species of Asian carp that are plaguing U.S. waters: bighead, silver, black or grass.
The mistaken discovery had prompted University of Minnesota researcher Peter Sorensen — shown with other researchers in the photo above at their U labraotory — to accelerate plans to place speakers (technically, transducers) on the downriver side of the downriver lock doors of Lock and Dam 8 near Genoa, Wis.
The speakers cost about $7,000 apiece, require about $2,000 a year in electricity to operate and would be attached to the lock by divers.
Sorensen said Tuesday that installation of the speakers, which likely will transmit motorboat sounds, is going ahead, regardless of the egg identification mistake, noting that rogue specimens of Asian carp have been found as far north as the St. Croix River since 1997.
Stopping upstream migrations of Asian carp further south on the Mississippi is also the only way to protect the Minnesota River, as well as the St. Croix, from reproducing infestations of these fish, Sorensen has noted.
Sorensen doesn't think the speakers will thwart 100 percent of Asian carp swimming upstream. But he believes the concept will be effective, and if so, additional speakers might be added in the future at Lock and Dam 5 and possibly Lock and Dam 3.
Sorensen and other researchers at the U also plan to use the school's supercomputer beginning this summer to simulate flow adjustments on Mississippi River dams that might further inhibit upstream movement of Asian carp.
The U.S. Corps of Engineers is cooperating in these and other efforts, Sorensen said.
The speaker project is being funded largely by lottery money overseen by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), together with some private funds.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr will appoint assistant commissioner Erika Rivers director of the Parks and Trails Division when its current director, Courtland Nelson, retires in April, the agency said Monday.
Rivers, 41, was appointed assistant commissioner by Landwehr in 2011 and currently supervises three DNR divisions: parks and trails, fish and wildlife, and enforcement.
“I asked Erika to make this move because I believe she is uniquely positioned to continue moving the Parks and Trails Division toward realizing its vision of creating unforgettable experiences that inspire people to pass along the love for the outdoors to current and future generations,’” Landwehr said. “Erika has proven herself a strong leader during her three years in the commissioner’s office.”
As assistant commissioner, Rivers oversaw development of strategic plans, development planning for the Fort Snelling Upper Post, Lake Vermilion State Park and La Salle Lake State Recreation Area, and the initiation of Phase II of off-highway vehicle system planning.
Rivers will oversee a $103 million annual budget and a staff of 1,200 full- and part-time employees. State parks and trails host more than 9 million visitors each year and help support Minnesota’s $11.9 billion tourism industry. The division manages:
76 state parks and recreation areas.
62 state forest campgrounds and day use areas.
Thousands of miles of state trails: forest (390), horse (1,000), ski (730), off-highway vehicle (1,000), snowmobile (950), water trails (4,530).
1,500 public water access sites.
350 fishing piers.
“It has been my privilege to serve in the commissioner’s office under Commissioner Landwehr for the past three years,” Rivers said. “I am honored and excited to be returning to the Parks and Trails Division to lead the talented staff and important work that’s being done there to connect people to the outdoors and Minnesota’s natural and cultural resources.”
Rivers holds a doctorate in conservation biology from the University of Minnesota.
Waterfowl Production Areas in Minnesota will be open to hunters when the state's pheasant season begins Saturday at 9 a.m.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the announcement Friday afternoon, making about 300,000 acres of pheasant lands available to hunters. The lands had been considered off-limits during the government shutdown.
In its announcement, the service said:
"It has been determined that allowing public access to Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) will not incur further government expenditure or obligation and is allowable under a government shutdown. Therefore, effective immediately, all WPAs will reopen to public use.
"As the shutdown continues, if the Service determines that maintaining the WPAs in open status, individually or cumulatively, would likely cause Service expenditures or obligations to be made in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, the Service will close public access.''