Sportsmen scrutinize bonding bill

St. Paul – By this time next week, a bonding bill could have
been passed out of the House and Senate, and be on Gov. Tim
Pawlenty’s desk, awaiting his signature and, perhaps, his veto
pen.

Unclear is how much money will be in the final bill for such
things as wildlife and aquatic management areas. Traditionally a
main source of the funding for those lands, this year’s proposals
direct little money to them.

Pawlenty proposed spending $4 million on WMAs and AMAs; the
House $1 million on AMAs, nothing for WMAs; the Senate $1 million
for both.

The DNR originally requested $24.5 million for AMAs and WMAs.
Past bonding bills have had $5 million (2008), $14 million (2006),
and $10 million (2005) for WMAs.

Conservation advocates say this year’s proposals, while being
“embarrassing,” as one put it, also raise questions as to whether
the Legislature is looking to supplant existing funding with money
raised as part of the 2008 constitutional amendment.

One part of the amendment says the new funds are meant to
supplement, not supplant, traditional sources of funding.

“They provided little money for WMAs and AMAs – projects that
hunters and anglers care about – from traditional sources,” said
Garry Leaf, of Sportsmen for Change. “That’s not what the people
voted for.”

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley and Environment and Natural
Resources Committee chair, called all three bonding proposals
“dismal.”

“I don’t think it’s because they don’t want to buy land – they
have $20 million or so for parks in the bill,” he said. “I don’t
think acquisition is the issue. I think it’s just discrimination
against sportsmen.”

Chaudhary was to introduce a bill to try to increase funding for
WMAs and AMAs, but didn’t think it would matter, in part because
the bill was on the fast track to be passed.

“We’re running into the classic lack of support from all sides
for sportsmen and conservation,” he said.

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said sportsmen should look
at another part of the House bonding proposal, which would fund the
Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve program to the tune of $30 million.
The Senate directed $10 million to RIM; Pawlenty proposed $4
million for it.

Each state RIM dollar would leverage 1.4 federal Wetlands
Reserve Program dollars. The RIM/WRP partnership has been
successful in the state in recent years, and officials say there
are more landowners who want to take those permanent easements than
there are dollars.

“I would encourage people to look at the $30 million for RIM,”
Hansen said. “It is a question of choices. In a tight economy, if
we are going to invest our dollars, let’s invest them where we can
double our money and achieve conservation objectives.”

Lance Ness, president of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative
Alliance, said sportsmen should not have to choose.

“We can’t ignore the federal dollars – that would be foolish,”
he said. “But we have a growing population and more and more
pressure being put on our existing (WMA) system. (WMAs) should
continue to be acquired as time goes on.”

Both the House and Senate bonding proposals total about $1
billion. Pawlenty’s bill is about $685 million.

“It’s a billion-dollar bill,” Chaudhary said. “We should
probably be OK with $10 million or $15 million for WMAs and AMAs to
make the Lessard bill truly supplementary.”

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, responsible for
recommending habitat-related expenditures from amendment proceeds,
recommended several million for the two this year.

The council also recommended about $6.9 million for RIM.

In a news release, Ducks Unlimited asked lawmakers to include
$50 million in the bonding bill for RIM.

“In 2010, Minnesota could lose at least $18 million in federal
funding,” Tim Koehler, assistant state conservationist for the
Natural Resources Conservation Service in Minnesota, said in the
release. “As a result of a national effort to accelerate WRP
enrollment, Minnesota might have to forfeit an additional $50
million in WRP funding through 2011 unless the state bonding
appropriation is secured.”

In other legislative news:

€ Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, has introduced a bill (HF
2738) that would eliminate the stipulation that the DNR could pay
no more than 12 percent of the appraised value of the land for a
state park on the shores of Lake Vermilion.

The Legislature a couple of years ago approved $20 million in
bonding for the park, but until recently the state and landowner
hadn’t agreed on a price for the land.

“Removing the 12 percent cap is what we need to do” to get the
deal done, said Bob_Meier, DNR assistant commissioner.

€ A bill (SF 2484) from Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, would
allow spearing on Cass Lake.

€ The DNR is considering legislation to ban recreational feeding
of wildlife during the fall season – perhaps the entire
deer-hunting season – and legislation to increase penalties for
baiting violations, according to Col. Jim Konrad, director of the
DNR_Enforcement Division.

Categories: Hunting News

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