Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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DNR Ecological Services closely watching session

St. Paul While the Minnesota Twins and public education make
legislative headlines, the freshwater mussel whose situation is
perhaps even more critical in this state continues to fight for
funding.

More aptly, the Ecological Services Division of the Minnesota
DNR is attempting to secure funding to continue its Mussel Resource
Survey, which is two years into a six-year project.

“The mussel is one of the most endangered species in the state,”
said Lee Pfannmuller, director of Eco Services.

The first two years of the study were funded by the Legislative
Commission on Minnesota Resources, whose funding is provided
through the state lottery. The commission this year didn’t fund the
study, stating it wanted it funded by the DNR, Pfannmuller
said.

The Eco Services Division, formerly a part of the Division of
Fish and Wildlife, became an independent division this past year,
and now competes for funding on its own. Wildlife and Fisheries
also became their own divisions. But Pfannmuller said the change
has done little to intensify competition for funding.

“Tim (Bremicker, Wildlife Division director) and Ron (Payer,
Fisheries Division director) and the Enforcement Divsion and I work
closely on these things,” she said. “I think we would’ve seen the
same package if we’d been together (under the former Fish and
Wildlife Division umbrella).”

Eco Services, the smallest of DNR divisions at about 10 percent
of its overall budget, operates with its own budget of about $10
million annually.

Included in Eco Services is the Nongame Program, which currently
is funded with about 80 percent donated funds. Since 1998, the
program has had base funds of about $250,000. This year,
Pfannmuller requested the state match Nongame’s donations (most of
which come by way of state tax forms) with a 1:1 match.

A Senate bill pledged less than that amount. There was no
proposal in the House. A funding match likely will be determined in
conference committee this week, Phannmuller said.

Since the amount that would be funded for Nongame was uncertain,
Pfannmuller said programs that would be enhanced through the
funding were prioritized depending on the funding received.

Eco Services also requested funding for its County Biological
Survey. Earlier this year, a $2.1 million request to the LCMR
resulted in funding of about $800,000.

A current House proposal would provide the project $1.8 million,
including the LCMR funds. A Senate proposal would fund the entire
$2.1 million (with the $800,000 in LCMR funding included). A
conference committee will determine the level of funding for the
survey.

Besides the ongoing mussel study, an LCMR request was earlier
denied for the final two years of a six-year Forest Bird Diversity
Initiative. For that, Eco Services has requested about $450,000 for
the next bienium.

Phannmuller said Eco Services also is hopeful of retaining
“lottery in-lieu” money that’s available through the state lottery.
The divisions of Wildlife, Fisheries, Enforcement and Eco Services
are awarded funding from that account that provides about between
$20 and $25 million annually.

Lake mapping, stream protection and several other projects could
benefit from this source, Phannmuller said.

A cap on general fund spending could also greatly impact the
DNR, she added.

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