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.