BOC: Increase license fees

St. Paul — Fishing and hunting license fees should be increased and restructured, as the DNR has proposed, to keep the Game and Fish Fund solvent, according to a citizens group that oversees agency expenditures.
The DNR pushed the proposal at the Legislature earlier this year, but it didn’t gain traction.

Still, it’s one of the top five “special issues” the Game and Fish Fund Budgetary Oversight Committee (BOC) listed in its most recent annual report.

“We support the current efforts under way to modify the structure and increase hunting and fishing license fees,” Joe Duggan, BOC chair, wrote. “The structural modifications and inflationary increase proposed will make the Game and Fish Fund solvent for the next several years.”

According to the report, the changes also will correct the ongoing imbalance between hunting and fishing revenues and expenditures.
Bob Meier, DNR legislative affairs director, says the agency continues to evaluate the license fee proposal. He expects what comes before the Legislature, which goes into session Jan. 24, 2012, to be similar to what it considered last session.

“Ultimately, we may have to increase (the proposed license fees) because it’s taken another year to get it done,” he said.

The last time there was a general license fee increase was 2001.

The BOC also listed shoreland rules as a special issue.

The DNR last year unveiled a new set of shoreland guidelines that it and stakeholder groups had been working on for years. The package included a variety of proposals, such as prohibition on new development within 50 feet of the shoreline.

But then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent the rules back to the DNR, telling the agency they over-reached and that the Legislature should consider them.
“The proposed rules would essentially terminate local decision-making through state-dictated command and control mechanisms, and unfairly undermine important private property rights with little accountability from elected officials,” Pawlenty wrote in his letter last year to DNR.

Meier said the agency is evaluating the shoreland rules internally. He also said there is interest among key legislators – Democrats and Republicans – to bring them back.
Duggan, in his letter, wrote that, “Updated shoreland rules were developed as part of a comprehensive, multi-stakeholder process, but were not finalized. Progress in preserving and protecting the vital habitat found within a lake’s shoreland is needed.”

The BOC also advised the DNR that “new dedicated funds and effort are required to improve Minnesota’s (invasive species) mitigation efforts.”

The agency sought a dedicated form of funding for invasive species during the most recent legislative session, but the proposal never gained traction.

There also were a number of invasive species policies passed, many of which focused on halting the spread of zebra mussels. The agency likely will attempt to tweak the rules in the upcoming session, in part because of two boatlifts that recently were moved from infested into non-infested waters.

“The focus has been on boats, rightly or wrongly,” Meier said. “To see those two instances (of zebra mussels transported via boatlifts) come about so close to each other – that could have been avoided.”
Finally, the BOC supports continued acquisition of wildlife management areas, and says “The Game and Fish Fund Report should be enhanced to better reflect how expenditures and effort are tied to the Fund’s strategic objectives.”

New committee
The DNR is in the process of putting a new, more streamlined budget oversight committee in place. The new BOC will have between 10 and 15 people, Meier said. The agency had more than 50 applicants for the positions.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr will appoint the new members as early as next week, and the first meeting may be before Christmas.
There were many new names among the list of applicants, Meier said.
“We’re really excited about that,” he said. “It was encouraging to see what I’m considering to be the next group of conservation leaders coming up.”

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