Anderson: Time for reason is short at Capitol

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 21, 2012 - 10:28 PM

As is par for the course, there is much to do on outdoors issues at the Legislature as the final deadline looms.

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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton

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Given to dramatic finishes, the Legislature is expected to conclude its work with a flourish this week or next. How hunting, angling, fish, wildlife and the environment will fare is anyone's guess.

There's always a chance, however remote, that reason, logic and compromise will prevail. If it does, the following will happen:

• A game and fish bill will be revived on the Senate floor, passed and delivered to a conference committee, and it will include a hunting and fishing license fee increase. Hunters want the higher fees, so do anglers, as do all of their representative groups.

To be signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, the bill also will need to give the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the authority to regulate minnows coming into the state from waters where Asian carp have been found. South Dakota in particular poses a threat as a source of fathead and other minnows used for fish food that can't easily be distinguished from Asian carp minnows.

A game and fish bill worthy of the time legislators have spent discussing it this session also will not exclude from the state's regulatory authority venison donated for charitable purposes, such as to food shelves.

The bill also must give authority to the DNR to sell wolf-hunting licenses to pay for the program's administration (the agency already has authority to conduct a wolf hunt) -- and most important, to pay for wolf control, money for which will run out in June. The bill will need to allow for hunting to begin with the state's firearms deer season, and might also establish a citizens/stakeholders oversight commission to placate Minnesotans who oppose wolf hunts and/or oppose wolf hunts coincident with the deer season.

The bill also must keep the fishing opener this year on May 12, rather than on May 5, as the House favors -- a position arrived at without a single hearing.

Of these, establishment of a wolf hunt during deer season, with license and application revenue going to the DNR, will be the linchpin that either seals passage of a game and fish bill -- or kills it.

That's because there's not a legislator -- DFL or Republican -- living north of Cloquet who doesn't want, or need, to deliver a wolf hunt during the deer season from this session. To get it, they'll need to compromise on an issue or two, specifically the hunting and fishing license fee increase -- a subject over which Dayton must draw a line in the sand with legislators.

Either that or the governor will acknowledge defeat on the fee issue to a relative handful of Tea Party types -- most serving in the House -- whose intentions are to strangle the DNR financially until it can no longer effectively regulate and administer the state's natural resources.

• A conference committee also likely will convene early this week to clean up differences between House and Senate Legacy bills.

A lot is at stake, and the job should be easy. But don't count on it.

Consider two major sticking points concerning the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

The first, and biggest, is the appropriation for the Mississippi Northwoods project, which the Senate fully funds at $14 million, while the House allocates half that amount, $7 million.

The project encompasses about 3 miles of Mississippi River shoreline north of Brainerd, and 2,000 acres of woods. Currently owned by Potlatch, the property has been appraised once (at $14 million), and additional appraisals are scheduled.

Potlatch has said a sale must be concluded by the end of the year.

Mississippi Northwoods is broadly supported in the Brainerd area, including by legislators of both parties, who cooperatively wrote an opinion piece recently in the Brainerd Dispatch boasting of its advantages.

Can the property be bought for less than $14 million? No one knows yet. What is known is that the House version of the Legacy bill allocates $2 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund for carp barriers that is unnecessary -- because there will be no need for this additional carp barrier money in the next 12 months. Additionally, the House bill allocates $2.2 million for carp research, money that should come out of the Clean Water Fund or other funds, not the Outdoor Heritage Fund. That's $4.2 million that should instead be reallocated to Mississippi Northwoods, giving that project a fighting chance for completion.

• Finally, the omnibus House and Senate environment bills. Both versions are so bad in terms of weakening wetland protections that a compromise measure would need to be entirely rewritten to earn the governor's signature. Better just to pull these proposals, and try again next year.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com

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