Ken Soring has been named the DNR's top conservation officer, and as division director will lead a staff of 250 with a budget of $38 million, the agency has announced.
“Ken Soring has a deep and lifelong commitment to Minnesota resources and more than three decades of experience in the Division of Enforcement,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “He has great standing amongst field officers and our stakeholders, which will be very helpful as the Enforcement Division embarks on its strategic planning and workforce initiatives in the coming years.”
Soring began his DNR career as a wildlife laborer before becoming a conservation officer in 1984. He has served eight years as a conservation officer, 12 years as a district supervisor and the past nine years as a regional enforcement manager in Grand Rapids.
Soring also was acting enforcement director for six months in 2008-2009.
“I really see three immediate priorities for the division,” said Soring. “As a division we need to provide excellent service to Minnesota citizens; work to increase compliance rates with natural resources laws through education and enforcement; and strive to continuously improve the ways we conduct our work.”
Soring assumes his new position June 19.
Smallmouth bass fishing is improving quickly in the metro area, particularly on the St. Croix
River, despite high water levels.
Meanwhile, excellent walleye fishing continues across much of northern Minnesota, where water temperatures remain cool.
Smallmouth on the St. Croix can be taken on a variety of artificial baits and flies. Mepp's spinners cast close to rocky shorelines and retrieved at moderate speeds have produced hits, as have a variety of crankbaits.
Stick baits also are worth a try, as are surface poppers.
Skirted Jungle Jigs cast to rocks, or Ugly Bugs or similar lures, also will take fish and can be tipped with artificial or live bait.
Up north, walleye fishing has been good on Leech Lake, also Winnibigoshish, Cass and Bemidji, among other waters, as the cool, wet spring seems to have prolonged the season's best bite, keeping fish in fairly shallow water.
Crankbaits trolled "long line'' style at night are producing, as are jig and sliding-sinker style rigs.
Gov. Dayton has signed the Legacy bill, but vetoed specific appropriations to metro parks and invasive species.
His letter to Rep. Paul Thissen, Speaker of the House, is below. In it, Dayton reveals that to get Legacy out of a House-Senate conference committee, he agreed with Majority Leader Sen. Tom Bakk and Thissen to sign the bill with the two controversial items intact.
Virtually all environment, conservation and wildlife groups opposed the metro parks and AIS funding because they were inserted in the Legacy bill by the House, with particular support of House Legacy Chair Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, and, either implicitly or explicitly, by Thissen.
But a firestorm of calls and letters to the governor's office and residence in the past few days apparently assured Dayton the right thing to do would be to line-item veto the two items. Otherwise, the integrity of the Outdoor Heritage Fund of the Legacy Act would be called into question, because the process of securing money from it without appealing to the Lessard-Sams Council, and instead going directly to legislators, would be apparent.
Undoubtedly, had the governor supported the two items in the Legacy bill it would have cost him in his expected bid for re-election. Nonetheless, it's likely he would have signed the bill as agreed to with Bakk and Thissen in order to get the bill passed, had he not made a contradictory promise — as he alludes to — to hunters and anglers and other state outdoors enthusiasts.
That promise said he would veto any attempt to "usurp the authority of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council'' — a promise that was recorded on video at Game Fair during Dayton's campaign and widely distributed in recent days.
Dayton also underscores in his letter to Thissen the rift that has grown this session between the House Legacy Committee (and by implication, Kahn) and outdoor interests.
Interesting going forward will be whether Thissen replaces Kahn as committee chair — because the governor is correct, future Legacy bills ultimately might not be passed by the Legislature if relations aren't repaired.
Here's the governor's letter:
The Honorable Paul Thissen, Speaker of the House
Dear Mr. Speaker:
I have received, approved, signed, and deposited in the Office of the Secretary of State Chapter 137, House File 1183, the Legacy Bill, with the exception of the line item vetoes listed below: (metro parks and invasive species).
This decision is extremely difficult for me. I attach great importance to keeping my word. Unfortunately, in this instance, I have given contradictory assurances to legislators during the past few days and to thousands of Minnesotans during the past few years. I have decided that I must honor my promise to those citizens.
I believe that this decision also represents the best interests of the people of Minnesota, who care deeply about the Outdoor Heritage Fund of the Legacy Fund. In my 13 legislative sessions, I have rarely seen the acrimony and distrust, which this dispute has caused between legislators and concerned citizens. The bitterness is not about the merits of the two projects I am vetoing, but rather the way in which they were added and other significant changes were proposed to the House bill.
As the legislative session approached its final hours, this battle over money, priorities, and prerogatives threatened to block passage of the entire Legacy Bill, which contained $496 million of funding for important projects throughout our state.
Last Sunday afternoon you, Senator Bakk, and I agreed to a compromise, in which the above two items would be included in the Legacy Conference Report. Although I had expressed my strong opposition to altering the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Council before and during the session, it appeared at that time that our only two options were to: 1) agree to this compromise, or 2) jeopardize passage of the entire bill.
At that time, I hoped that the thousands of Minnesotans, who are deeply committed to the work of the Lessard-Sams Council, would accept our compromise. Since the bill's passage, however, I have heard from many organizations, representing thousands of our citizens, who believe my approval of those two items would betray the promises I have made repeatedly during the past four years to respect the Council's decisions.
I also note that investments in Metro parks, including habitat improvements, received other funding from the legislature this year:
• $9.085mm from the Outdoor Heritage Fund for Metro habitat; $33.774mm for Metro Parks and Trails grants from the Legacy Fund; $17.08mm to the Metropolitan Council for base funding for regional parks, from the Environment Finance bill; and $5.62mm from LCCMR for Metro-area habitat acquisition; totaling $65.559 million.
I also note that the following aquatic invasive species (AIS) received other funding from the Legislature this year as well, including:
• $8.526mm was appropriated in the Environment Finance bill to combat AIS; and $9.84mm was appropriated in the LCCMR bill for AIS research investments.
Nevertheless, my line-item vetoes do not reflect a lack of support for the two projects; rather they underscore my conviction that the House Legacy Committee must work with its citizen councils, not against them. I will ask the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to reconsider these two projects when it assembles its next funding recommendations.
I believe it is imperative that the leadership of the House Legacy Committee repair its relations with the Lessard-Sams Council and the many sportsmen, sportswomen, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, hunters, anglers, and everyone else committed to the enhancement of our state's priceless outdoor heritage. Otherwise, I have serious doubts that a Legacy Bill can be enacted in future legislative sessions'
People might disagree with Mark Dayton’s politics. But those who know the governor say he’s a good guy who tells the truth.
We’ll see about that.
Attached to this blog is a short video taken at Game Fair during Dayton’s campaign for the governor’s office. In it, Dayton commits to his complete support of the state’s sportsmen and women, and the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council in its annual habitat funding recommendations to the Legislature.
The council recommends habitat projects to be paid from the Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF), created in 2008 by passage of the Legacy Act.
The issue is considered critical by hunters and anglers, among other conservationists, because the Legislature has an abysmal record of funding natural resources stewardship, and a better record of routing money to pet projects that was intended instead to clean the state’s waters and conserve, enhance and restore wildlife habitat.
Here — as you can see by watching the video — is Dayton stating his unequivocal support for the council, its “authority’’ and his promised veto of any legislative attempts to fund projects not approved by the council.
“I just want everyone to know that if I’m governor, the sportsmen and women of this state are going to have a friend in the governor’s office. I will veto any legislative attempt to usurp the authority of the Lessard-Sams Council.’’
On Monday, the final day of the legislative session, in both the House and Senate, the authority of the council was usurped in a Legacy bill that soon will be on Dayton’s desk awaiting his signature, his veto or some combination of both.
Minnesota groups representing more than 100,000 hunters, anglers and other conservationists want Dayton to sign the bill, but with line-item vetoes of a $6.3 million appropriation to metro parks and $3 million for invasive species.
The issue is critical, the groups believe, because the metro parks appropriation from the OHF was rejected by the council before being included by the House in its Legacy bill and, ultimately, in a House-Senate conference committee agreement.
Similarly, the council didn’t approve — or even have a chance to review — the invasive species appropriation.
The 12-member Lessard–Sams council comprises eight citizens and four legislators. Its charge — transparent, democratic and open to the public — is to review scores of habitat proposals from throughout the state and recommend those for OHF funding that are science-based, economically efficient and have the most potential to benefit the state’s land, water, fish and wildlife.
The OHF is one of four funds created by the Legacy Act, an amendment to the constitution that fractionally increases the sales tax and dedicates the money to fish, game and wildlife habitat, the arts and cultural heritage, clean water and parks and trails.
About $300 million annually flows into the funds, $100 million for game, fish and wildlife, $100 million for clean water, about $60 million for the arts and cultural heritage and $40 million for parks and trails.
Habitat should be science-based
Game, fish and wildlife projects funded by the OHF are intended to fit into a long-range habitat plan the council has developed in an attempt to slow, or in some cases reverse, the degradation of the state’s fish and wildlife habitat that has occurred for more than a century.
The point of the OHF never was to plant trees or other habitat helter-skelter throughout the state, but instead to help heal its landscape on a grander scale by targeting projects — one building upon another — within watersheds and other natural geographic delineations.
Nor did supporters of the Legacy Act, which was first conceived by hunters and anglers hoping to model a similar conservation plan in Missouri, imagine that beneficiaries of one fund, say parks and trails, would try to gain money from another, in this case the OHF.
The Senate this session has stood by the Lessard-Sams council’s OHF recommendations, while the House added the parks plan and made other significant changes to the council’s recommendations, including the invasive species appropriation.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis and chair of the House Legacy Committee, has said legislators have the right as elected officials to change the recommendations, adding that in her belief the Lessard-Sams council is biased again the metro area.
But about 10 percent of the council’s funding recommendations has been directed to the seven-county metro, and 14 percent goes to the greater metro — relatively more than the two represent as percentages of the state land mass.
Metro habitat projects also are significantly more expensive than greater Minnesota wildlife projects, which oftentimes also are paid for with matching funds from conservation groups or state or federal wildlife agencies.
Some council members say they voted against funding the metro parks proposal because it was poorly conceived and presented, overly expensive and didn’t fare well in competition with proposals that totaled more than twice the funds the council had available.
But Kahn defended reviving the parks idea in the House bill even as it received criticism by a who’s-who of state conservation and environment groups.
The university-area legislator said in her committee she believes ducks need habitat where they eat “breakfast and lunch’’ near her home in downtown Minneapolis, not only in greater Minnesota.
Her office didn’t respond to an email request for comment on Monday.
Conservation groups — including Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and Pheasants Forever, among many others — say that Kahn, various park lobbyists and other metro legislators, including House Speaker and one-time gubernatorial candidate Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, are trying to get their foot in the OHF door to secure Legacy money for the metro not only this session, but in future years as well.
Thissen has said it’s important to keep outdoor activities and relatively wild places available to the state’s large urban population.
Lance Ness, president of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative Alliance, has another view.
“It’s pork politics at its plainest,’’ he said.
Council promised to voters
Senate Legacy bill author Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said in this committee many voters who backed the 2008 amendment believed a citizen-dominated council would be established to keep politics as far away as possible from the OHF funding process.
But Kahn and her supporters, including Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, seem to have never warmed to the council idea.
Hansen, in fact, has attempted to disband it — as he has the Clean Water Council. And Kahn prepared an amendment to her Legacy bill this session that would have increased the council’s membership to 17, while flip-flopping its balance of power, 10 legislators to seven citizens.
The amendment was never offered.
Among powerful metro interests aiding Kahn on Legacy at the Capitol is longtime Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board lobbyist and attorney Brian Rice.
Kahn is close to Rice, and Kahn has been quoted saying he contributes to her campaigns.
Last year, Rice and his law firm were paid $646,694 for lobbying and legal work by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, whose 2013 budget is about $94 million.
On Sunday, retired Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant said he spoke with Dayton at the recent unveiling of the new Vikings stadium, and that Dayton told him he would veto the House Legacy bill if it came to his desk.
Grant sent a letter to Dayton today, asking the governor to line-item veto the metro parks and invasive species funding.
“I value our friendship, I value your service, and I value your word,’’ Grant wrote. “The future of Minnesota’s outdoor heritage is in your hands. It is your responsibility and privilege to uphold your promise and exercise your line-item veto.’’
Retired Vikings coach Bud Grant, who is following the action — or inaction — of the Senate-House conference committee that is attempting to resolve differences between the two chambers' versions of the Legacy bill, said Sunday that Gov. Mark Dayton told him the House's version of the bill "won't get through the Senate.''
The governor also said, "And if the House bill did pass the Senate, I'd veto it.''
Grant said he had a moment alone with the governor at the recent unveiling of the design of the new Vikings stadium.
"We just happened to have a moment with no one else around, and I said to the governor, 'You know what you said, that you would support the (Lessard-Sams) Legacy Council's positions on habitat funding,' '' Grant said. "The governor looked me right in the eye and said, 'I know, I know. The House bill won't pass the Senate, and if it does I'll veto it.''
Dayton had promised while campaigning for the governor's office he would veto any attempt to usurp the authority of the 12-member Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. Eight members are citizens; the remainder legislators.
The council for the coming funding year recommended habitat projects totaling nearly $100 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund benefiting game, fish and wildlife.
But the House Legacy Committee, chaired by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, rewrote the recommendations significantly, and forwarded a bill that passed the House that changes the council's funding recommendations from annual to biennial, while adding about $6 million in metro parks funding and a land acquisition by the Fond du Lac band of Chippewa.
Kahn chairs the five-member House conference committee that has met with its Senate counterpart chaired by Sen. Dick Cohen, so far without resolution.
Wildlife, conservation and environment groups are watching the issue closely, as are arts and cultural heritage organizations, parks and trails groups and beneficiaries of the state's Clean Water Fund. In total, nearly $300 million in Legacy funds is at stake for the coming year, and unless the Outdoor Heritage Fund showdown is resolved by the time the Legislature adjourns Monday at midnight, the money won't be spent.
"I have no reason to question that the governor won't keep his word,'' Grant said. "Every dealing I've had with him in the past, he's lived up to.''