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

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Dedicated funding focus turns to citizens council

St. Paul – The report from the Conservation Legacy Council,
created by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to make recommendations on the future
of conservation in the state, is the basis of legislation that’s
expected to be introduced in coming days or weeks.

Among the aspects of the bill, discussed Monday in a meeting
with the governor’s staff and eight CLC members: A seven-citizen
council to oversee the spending of the habitat portion of the
dedicated funding bill that voters will decide on this fall.

The council also would create a “Conservation Compact” – a plan
to identify the needs in the state and direct spending.

“Having something in place that says who is going to make the
decisions on the spending and on what basis will only enhance the
chances of the question being approved by voters in November,” said
Mike Kilgore, CLC chair and professor at the University of
Minnesota.

Authors of the bill still are being identified, but the draft
version “is pretty true to the major recommendations of the CLC
report,” said Dave Zentner, a CLC member and co-chair of the Duck
Rally.

Finalized last spring, the report recommended the following:

€ Immediately increase funding for natural resources
conservation;

€ Create a citizen-based Conservation Commission to lead
Minnesota’s conservation efforts;

€ Develop a “Conservation Compact” – an agreed-upon plan of
action for making critical improvements to Minnesota’s water, fish,
wildlife, forests, soil, and outdoor recreation resources.

While the report was farther-reaching than that – it included a
recommendation that the council provide strategic direction and
oversight to the DNR, for example – it’s unclear how much any bill
introduced this session will cover, due to recognition that such a
comprehensive package could slow its journey through the
Legislature.

“The jury’s still out on that,” Kilgore said. “The element of
allocating dedicated dollars is an important one, but it’s not the
sole element of what we recommended.”

As it’s currently drafted, the bill calls for a seven-citizen
council. Those would be people with a strong background in things
like wildlife, game, and habitat, he said.

“It’s a starting point, but I’m sure there are going to be folks
in the Legislature who don’t want to see this decision-making given
solely to a citizens-based group,” Kilgore said. “There was a very
strong feeling among (CLC) members that a citizens governance model
can be a very successful model. It’s all going to come down to the
people you have,” whether it’s citizens, legislators, or a mix of
the two.

The idea of a citizens council to oversee the spending of state
money has been a hard sell at the Capital in the past, and there
likely will be other bills that deal with governance of the nearly
$100 million a year for habitat the dedicated funding bill would
raise. Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, was to introduce a bill
that would create a 16-member council – 10 citizens and six
legislators.

The dedicated funding bill that passed the Senate last year
included such a council. The House version didn’t, and the idea
wasn’t included when the Legislature passed the bill on Feb.
14.

“We’ve gotten past the big hurdle, which is getting the
amendment question to voters in November,” Kilgore said. “One of
several next steps is to figure out who makes the (spending)
decisions and on what basis.”

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