DNR survey shows clean waters are a top priority

St. Paul Clean water is paramount. Respondents to a DNR survey
said the department’s top priorities should be keeping the state’s
water bodies free of pollution, both in the water and along the
shorelines.

Several other issues of importance remained so, as they did in
the previous four DNR “Awareness and Satisfaction” surveys in 1996,
1992, and 1988.

“There were no real dramatic shifts,” said Tom Baumann, director
of Information, Education and Licensing for the DNR. “It was more a
continuation of trends from the past three surveys.”

Respondents rated highly the procedures required by the DNR to
get a license or permit and said DNR employees are helpful and
knowledgeable.

There has been a slight decline in the number of those who view
hunting and angling as important in the state, Baumann said.

Twelve years ago, only 5 percent of those surveyed said fishing
was not important. This year, 17 percent said it was not.

However, the number who said it was very important rose from 38
percent to 44 percent and those who believe it’s important to some
degree still stand at 83 percent.

Hunting is still considered important or very important by 80
percent of those in the survey, although the percentage of those
who say it’s not important has risen from 11 percent in 1988 to 20
percent this year.

Baumann said the decline of those residing in agricultural
counties coupled with the move to suburban communities may help
explain the trends in both hunting and fishing attitude.

“There also was more interest in exotic species,” he said.
“People want to get information about them and want to know the DNR
is doing something to control the spread of them.”

Baumann said the survey, started in 1988 as part of a customer
service improvement policy of then-DNR Commissioner Joe Alexander,
was distributed to 1,000 state residents this year. The DNR
received responses from 54 percent, making it a “good, sound,
sample,” Baumann said.

Confidence in the survey also is enhanced by the fact opinions
on key issues have been stable for 12 years, he said.

The results are used for a number of things, foremost of which
is for the DNR to establish a “broad barometer” of public
opinion.

“We get complaints, and in a lot of ways we need to balance
those with what people think generally,” Baumann said. “A complaint
might represent only 3 to 4 percent of the population.”

Overwhelming survey responses can result in rule changes, as
they did a few years ago when respondents criticized the lack of
personal watercraft regulations. After receiving those comments,
the DNR formed a legislative initiative that resulted in new
regulations and laws for PWCs.

When shoreline trash became a hot issue in the first survey in
1988, the Adopt-A-River program was spawned shortly thereafter.

Twelve years later, trash is still on the minds of respondents.
Their biggest gripe this year? Trash dumped along lakeshores and
rivers and what the DNR is doing about it.

Respondents also would like to see the DNR take a more active
role in helping lakeshore owners identify where and when they can
control aquatic vegetation adjacent to their property and better
manage lakeshore development.

Baumann said the amount of media attention lakeshore issues have
received may now account for an increased awareness of those types
of issues. However, shoreline raises other issues.

“There are questions of jurisdiction,” he said. “Who’s really
responsible?”Often it’s the county, other times the city. And
sometimes, it’s the state.

With each survey, Baumann said, new issues arise, while others
are dropped. For example, the 1837 Treaty issue did not appear on
this survey since a court ruled last year. Meanwhile, other issues
come to the forefront.

For example, 63 percent of those surveyed agreed or strongly
agreed the DNR should prohibit the construction and use of
permanent deer stands on state land. Nineteen percent were neutral,
and 17 percent disagreed.

To an even greater degree, respondents said state land used for
outdoor recreation should remain in the state’s ownership. Just
over 80 percent agreed, while 6 percent disagreed. Thirteen percent
took a neutral stance.

Other findings included:

The third most important DNR service is firearms safety
education;

Nearly 80 percent of respondents are satisfied or very satisfied
with the maintenance of state campgrounds and trails;

The majority of respondents said the DNR should expand its land
holdings;

The greatest number of written comments suggested the DNR needs
more conservation officers, along with stronger authority and more
severe punishment;

Several written comments suggested slot restrictions and
stocking efforts be increased to enhance angling;

Respondents were critical of poor duck and goose hunting in the
state.

While the survey was conducted outside the department in 1988,
Baumann said DNR employees now conduct it, and it is expected to
continue at four-year intervals.

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