The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would receive a major boost to fight chronic wasting disease (CWD) under the budget proposed by Gov. Tim Walz.
Besides adding $4.75 million to protect whitetails from the dreaded disease, the governor’s two-year budget would increase the cost of boat registration to improve boat launch facilities and recharge the fight against aquatic invasive species.
Walz rolled out a DNR spending budget last week that also would add money to obtain more feedback from anglers, add $2 million for the upkeep of state trails and provide a one-time, $1.8 million chunk of money to study impacts on drinking water in a region of central Minnesota where forests are being leveled to plant crops. In all, the governor proposes a 5 percent increase to the DNR’s base budget.
“I think it’s a comprehensive package for the agency … to connect people to the outdoors,” DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said.
The new DNR chief will present the proposed budget Tuesday to two key legislative committees. The new biennium starts July 1 and ends June 30, 2021.
The DNR, with the equivalent of 2,700 full-time employees, spends roughly $565 million a year. The biggest division is Fish and Wildlife, with 23 percent of the pie. Parks and Trails is a close second, while Forestry is third, sharing 15 percent of the budget.
What follows are new wrinkles in the proposed DNR budget as highlighted by Strommen and DNR Chief Financial Officer Mary Robison:
• General fund money totalling $4.75 million would be added to the DNR’s CWD response in southeastern Minnesota and in Crow Wing County around a deer farm infected by the disease. Testing deer for the disease, thinning herds and gaining landowner cooperation is central to the efforts. The governor’s proposal dwarfs a $1.5 million Senate bill with the same objective.
• The governor proposes to wipe out a shortfall in the state trails maintenance account with $2 million of general fund money over the next two years to renew investment in 1,500 miles of recreational trails for biking, hiking, skiing, snowmobiling and ATV riding.
• Boaters would pay an estimated $2.9 million more per year in higher registration fees to erase a funding shortfall in an account largely dedicated to maintaining and upgrading boat access areas. Boat license fees would increase from 25 percent to 45 percent, depending on boat size and other factors.
• Boaters would pay a higher aquatic invasive species (AIS) surcharge. The $5 charge hasn’t changed since 1993. It would increase to $7.25. New funds totaling $1.3 million over the biennium would cover a deficit in the water recreation AIS account, but DNR also would return to making AIS grants to local governments.
• Walz would like to add $810,000 to the DNR’s coffers in the next biennium to allow fisheries managers to make good on a commitment to expand angler surveys. The agency already gets feedback from anglers on the state’s 10 largest lakes. Now the DNR wants to monitor angler preferences and the effectiveness of fishing regulations on smaller waters.