MARSHALL - The hunting and fishing community of Minnesota let their voices be heard at the Capitol this year and were rewarded for their persistence by the signing this week of a broad natural resources bill that, among other things, will raise hunting and fishing license fees.
The DNR estimates the new fees will generate about $5 million in fiscal 2013 and about $10 million per year in following years to bolster the state's wildlife resource management by maintaining the solvency of the state's Game and Fish Fund for the remainder of the biennium, which ends June 30, 2013. New revenue will begin to come into the game and fish fund in March.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday signed a House- and Senate-approved bill that raises the cost of an annual resident fishing license from $17 to $22 and a resident deer hunting license from $26 to $30. Most resident youth hunting and fishing licenses will be $5 or free. The fee increase was strongly and publicly supported by hunting, fishing and conservation organizations throughout the state. The last general license fee increase was in 2001.
Ed Boggess, director of the Department of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Division, said in a teleconference Friday with statewide media that the DNR was nearing a point where there wouldn't be any sacred cows when it came to cuts to programs related to wildlife and the outdoors.
"It's really good news for fishing and hunting in Minnesota," said Boggess. "This means that things that potentially were going to be cut won't have to be. We were on the verge of having to make cuts to things like surveys, stocking programs. We'll be able to continue stocking programs and surveys for hunting and fishing, and we'll keep up roadside counts for wildlife."
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said specific uses of new license fee revenues will be proposed in the future as the agency develops a biennial budget proposal that the governor will submit to the Legislature in January 2013.
Bob Meier, director of policy and government affairs with the DNR, said the close votes on the game and fish bill were the result of a few provisions within the bill that dealt with the new wolf season and new restrictions on body-gripping traps.
"But I think at the end of the day people recognized the need for funding to occur this year," Meier said. "If we had to go back in 2013 it would, in effect, be a two-year delay. We needed all the support we got and we appreciate it."
Another aspect of the license fee issue is lower fees for youth. Where 16- or 17-year-olds once had to purchase an adult fishing license, they now have to pay only $5. Same goes for small game resident licenses and non-residential youth angling licenses. Boggess said the DNR has been pursuing lower youth license fees for nearly a decade because the DNR doesn't want price to be a barrier to parents who want to get their kids involved in hunting and fishing.
"We think $5 is low enough that it won't be a barrier to youth participation," Boggess said.
The license fee increase was the attention-grabber of the proposed legislation and became nearly a foregone conclusion. Other pieces of outdoors-related legislation signed by Dayton are designed to curb the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species and involves the dissolution of a program requiring watercraft owners to place an AIS rules sticker on their boats. That law is being replaced with an online education program. Watercraft owners will no longer be required to place on their boats the rectangular, silver and black decals, which include a summary of the state's AIS laws.
The new law, which goes into effect in 2015, will require anyone who transports watercraft or water-related equipment with a trailer to complete an online education course. After completing the course, the person will receive a decal that must be placed on his or her trailer, certifying the course has been completed. Those who complete the course can receive extra stickers if they own or use multiple trailers for watercraft or water-related equipment.
However, there is no penalty for non-compliance. Instead, enforcement can only offer what amounts to a fistful of written warnings.
"This isn't something new in game and fish or natural resource laws," said Rodmen Smith of the DNR enforcement division. "There are other laws where the Legislature has identified statutes where there's no penalty. The Legislature has given us a number of tools, and what we're doing here is changing the culture in the state of Minnesota."
The DNR encourages boaters and users of watercraft to keep their current stickers on. While the current law will be repealed July 1, the DNR will not issue citations to a law that won't exist as of July 1. Smith encourages people to keep their stickers on to spread the message and raise awareness of AIS. Jim Japs of the DNR's Ecological and Waters Division said the stickers are required to be on trailers now because they are the common mode of transportation for boats.
"Rather than have two sticker requirements, we eliminated the watercraft one and instituted the trailer one," Japs said. "The trailer because it takes the watercraft from one water body to another."
Those coming from out-of-state will receive a seven-day authorization for their trailers.