Challenging as it is for a political party to be in favor of gun rights but against hunting, Minnesota Republicans appear to have achieved that distinction. This is a widely viewed assessment of the assault on public lands underway in the Republican-controlled Legislature this session.
Time was in this state that Twin Cities dwellers had ties either through friends or relations to outstate lands that could be hunted for pheasants, ducks, grouse or deer.
Even in the latter part of the last century, many metro residents were only one or two generations removed from living in Willmar, Worthington, Bemidji, Hinckley or any of the state’s other small- to medium-size towns, and therefore retained connections to places to hunt outstate.
That’s much less the case now.
Today, if you live in the metro, unless you own your own hunting property, your opportunities afield, and satisfactions there, depend entirely in this state on the availability and quality of public lands — the same public lands being assaulted by the Legislature.
Unfortunately, the burden of proposals being bandied about this session would be borne disproportionately by working men and women, especially those who hope that some day their kids have the same opportunities they had in this state: to run a dog ahead on an October day, hoping to put up a pheasant; to wade into a marsh on an autumn morning, scanning the sky for a few ducks; or to sit in a tree in November, alert for a white-tail buck.
Imperiled as these opportunities might be to individual hunters, the threat posed this session by the Legislature has broader ramifications.
Polls of hunters and would-be hunters indicate that access to and availability of land to hunt is their top challenge, and the reason many who otherwise would purchase hunting licenses and stamps don’t — the same licenses and stamps that pay for much of this state’s conservation work.
Ergo: Less hunting land means fewer hunters, which translates into less conservation.
Here’s a snapshot of what the Legislature is up to:
• In the House Legacy bill is language that allows counties to establish no-net-gains of public lands policies within their borders. Under the provision, the DNR would be required to sell public lands the agency owns in the county proportionate to any new public lands it acquires with Outdoor Heritage (Legacy) funds.
• Also in the House Legacy bill is language telling the citizen-dominated Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council how to do its job.
Recall that supporters of the 2008 voter-approved Legacy Amendment worried that legislators would misappropriate money the amendment dedicated to projects benefiting game, fish and wildlife. So the supporters insisted the 12-member Lessard-Sams council be formed to recommend such projects to the Legislature, and insisted as well the council consist of eight citizens and only four legislators, again because they didn’t trust legislators.
Now comes this language in the House-passed Legacy bill:
When making recommendations, the (Lessard-Sams) council must prioritize projects that restore and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for fish, game and wildlife over projects that acquire land.
• Finally, the House-passed tax bill contains language that creates a sub-account with money that voters in 2008 wanted to go to fish, game and wildlife. In the sub-account, sums equal to 30 times the amount of annual property taxes assigned to any parcel of acquired wildlife property must be deposited to pay property taxes, essentially in perpetuity, on the acquired parcel — payments in lieu of taxes that now are paid from the general fund.
Moreover, if the sub-account idea is determined to be unconstitutional, as it probably would be, or otherwise remains unfunded, then the following language applies:
The state may not use money from the Outdoor Heritage fund to acquire in fee simple in whole or in part any land subject to property taxes or any land owned by a nonprofit organization that was subject to property taxes before the land’s acquisition by the nonprofit organization.
Targeted here are conservation groups that routinely handle land transferred to the state from donors or willing sellers that ultimately end up as state wildlife management areas or other properties open to hunting.
Many (not all) Republicans opposed the Legacy Amendment in 2008, and in the years since have tried to figure out ways to undo the parts they find most objectionable.
They know Minnesotans will never repeal the amendment. So they’re trying to void by statute as much of it as they can.
Whether Senate Republicans agree with their House counterparts on these efforts remains to be seen.
But if you hunt, or care about conservation in this state, you best pay attention until the Legislature adjourns next month.