Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

MN: In advance of potential shutdown, DNR identifying critical services

St. Paul – Will state parks and campgrounds be open on the
Fourth of July?

Will fish being raised in DNR hatcheries have to be stocked into
lakes before they’re ready?

Will the DNR conduct its annual August roadside counts, or be able
to handle its active timber sales?

As the clock ticks toward what could be a massive shutdown of state
government – as of earlier this week, Gov. Mark Dayton and
Republican lawmakers had only agreed on a relatively small
agriculture budget – there’s a lot that’s up in the air.

The two sides have until the end of the month to agree on a state
budget and stave off a shutdown. If the latter occurs, it’s unclear
exactly what it might look like, though only services deemed
critical would continue.

“Hopefully soon we will have some idea about what will be defined
as critical,” said Ed Boggess, director of the DNR Fish and
Wildlife Division.

DNR officials say they’ve been in shutdown preparation mode since
the day Dayton vetoed the budget bill that contains that budget for
agencies including the DNR and Board of Water and Soil
Resources.

With little outward evidence of progress toward resolving the
budget impasse, preparations have accelerated in recent days, they
say.

DNR officials have been working with Dayton’s office and Minnesota
Management and Budget to identify what they deem critical
services.

“We’re trying to be as prepared as we can for whatever happens,”
Boggess said.

In a court filing earlier this week, Attorney General Lori Swanson
identified several state services she deemed essential. Dayton is
expected to submit a petition to the court later this week laying
out what his administration deems essential.

Dayton and Republican lawmakers remain far apart on how to close a
$5 billion budget deficit. They must come to an agreement by June
30.

“We’re still hopeful that things will be resolved before that,”
said Dave Schad, DNR deputy commissioner.

If not, “It’s going to be up to a court to make all those
decisions,” he said.

The last time a shutdown was so close was in 2005, when a portion
of state government did indeed shut down for more than a week. But
lawmakers and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty agreed on an environment
finance bill just before the shutdown took effect.

That likely occurred because the environment budget makes up a tiny
portion of the overall state budget, but also because lawmakers and
Pawlenty didn’t want to shutter state parks on the eve of the
Fourth of July.

While the vast majority of the DNR budget comes from license fees
and other sources, not the state General Fund, those dollars still
must be appropriated by the Legislature.

It remains unclear whether conservation officers, for example,
would stay on the job.

Or if people would be able to buy fishing and hunting licenses.
Depending on the length of any shutdown, lotteries or special-hunt
applications could be affected.

Depredation and nuisance animal complaints that DNR staffers
typically respond to? “There just wouldn’t be any staff to do
that,” said Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section chief.

Ongoing surveys likely would be interrupted, and there may be holes
in long-term data sets. It’s unlikely, for example, there would be
anyone to check on the variety of animals that researchers have
radio-collared throughout the state.

“Depending on the duration of a potential shutdown, there would be
gaps in that data, or the survey work just wouldn’t get done at
all,” Simon said.

“Many of the tasks we are doing would be missed by people, but
won’t necessarily be critical to our operation,” he said.

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