A bill that would increase Minnesota’s hunting and fishing license fees was approved Monday in the Minnesota Senate, but a controversial proposal to open the fishing season a week earlier was dropped.

That means the opener will probably remain May 12. The House version of the bill, however, moves it to May 5 and doesn’t include the fee increases, so both issues must be resolved in a House-Senate conference committee.

The large game and fish bill approved by the Senate also establishes the state’s first wolf-hunting season next fall, which would begin in November with the regular firearms deer season.
Amendments Monday to delay a wolf-hunting season for five years and to require hunters to buy a $30 wolf stamp were defeated.

Under the bill, a wolf license would cost $26. The DNR intends to issue 6,000 licenses and close the season once 400 wolves are killed by hunters and trappers.

The Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, to take 50 cents from the deer license fee increase and use it for wolf management and depredation compensation. It also directs 50 cents from all hunting and fishing licenses to the school trust land compensation account to pay for longstanding hunter access to 2.5 million acres of public school trust land and for boat access on those lands. Income from school trust land goes to education.

“For the last 150 years, hunters have used it for free,” said Sen. Ben Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park. “It’s time to pay back the kids.”

Also, hunting and fishing licenses would be sold electronically even if state government shuts down, under another amendment that was approved.

Changes remain uncertain

The fate of the proposed hunting and fishing license increases, meantime, is unknown.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, who wore a “Raise hunting and fishing fees now!” sticker at a sportsman’s rally Monday at the Capitol Rotunda attended by about 75 fee-increase supporters, said passage in the House, where there was less support for the idea, is uncertain.

“It’s not a guarantee, absolutely not,” he said. “We have our work cut out.” He said hunters and anglers who support fee increases need to contact their representatives.

The Department of Natural Resources has sought fee increases for several years. Officials say the DNR’s game and fish fund likely will go into the red next July without increases, forcing the agency to make major cuts to game and fish programs.

“We haven’t raised fees for 11 years, and we all know how inflation has eroded dollars,” said Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, urging passage. “It’s time to do it.”

Minnesota angling legend Al Lindner told the Capitol rally that fees must be increased if the state is to maintain the world-class fishing it now offers.

“I’ve fished all over the country, and you don’t understand how good it is here,” Lindner told the crowd, many carrying signs supporting fee increases. “And it costs money to maintain that.”

Addressing the reluctance of legislators to raise taxes, Lindner said: “It isn’t a tax, it’s a user fee.”

Some 60 hunting, fishing and environmental groups support the fee increases.

“People want to raise the fees,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria. Last week, his amendment to raise fees failed and the bill was tabled. It was resurrected Monday after a provision retaining the DNR’s conservation fishing licenses was added to the bill.

Doug Smith • 612-673-7667