Lessard Council approves $109M in spending

St. Paul — The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council last week unanimously approved a $109 million package of outdoors projects, which will be sent to lawmakers for their sign-off during the next legislative session.

The package includes a number of familiar projects, including for the Reinvest in Minnesota/Wetland Reserve Program partnership, and to buy state wildlife management areas and federal waterfowl production areas.

It also includes $2.8 million for a controversial project in the northeastern part of the state, as well as money to fight aquatic invasive species and for habitat in the metro area. The latter two were the source of much consternation during the last legislative session, and drew vetoes from Gov. Mark Dayton.

But unlike the last time around, the Lessard-Sams council itself voted to include those projects in its set of recommendations.

David Hartwell, chair of the council, called it “a genuinely great package.”

Lawmakers will consider it during the coming legislative session, which is set to begin Feb. 25. Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said he plans to file a bill approving the recommendations before the session starts. Such a move is typically reserved for noncontroversial items.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis and chair of the House Legacy Committee, said the council’s recommendations look “very good.”

“I don’t see any serious changes we’d be looking for,” she said.

Kahn last session was at the forefront of the dispute over the bill, with some sportsmen and others upset that her committee made changes to the bill that was recommended by the Lessard-Sams council.

She also sought to change the Outdoor Heritage Fund allocation process from an annual one to a biennial one. That plan also met resistance, and after studying the possibility, the council last week voted to recommend sticking with an annual process. The Legislature, of course, can revisit the issue during the session, and Kahn has signaled interest in doing so.

Though the council voted unanimously on its set of recommendations, there were differing opinions on some of the projects, most notably the $2.8 million tabbed for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

That project, which includes 956 acres of acquisition and 271 acres of restoration and enhancement in the St. Louis River watershed in northeastern Minnesota, has been before the council on multiple occasions.

Much of the debate last week centered around hunting and fishing regulations on the property, which the Fond du Lac Band would own. The land would be open to tribal members and nonmembers alike, and generally would follow laws on state-owned land.

The exception: Wolf hunting and trapping wouldn’t be allowed, given the band’s objection to it.

“This would be an unusual precedent, if we allow every applicant to set their own hunting and fishing regulations on everybody else,” council member Ron Schara said. “… Is this the precedent we want to set?”

Council member Susan Olson replied that, “This precedent was set by the United States Supreme Court. … Just because Ron Schara wants to wolf hunt doesn’t mean Ron Schara gets to do it.”

“You’re missing my point,” Schara said.

“No, I’m not,” Olson responded.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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