Minnesota Senate approves hike in license fees

St. Paul — The state Senate on Monday approved a bill that would raise costs for fishing and hunting licenses, and establish a season for wolf hunting and trapping this fall.

The Senate did not include an earlier fishing opener in its bill, but kept intact the conservation fishing license, which costs less than a regular license but allows anglers to keep fewer fish.

The bill appeared stalled less than a week earlier, when Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, brought it to the floor but could not secure enough votes to attach the license-fee increases to it.

Several changes apparently made the bill more palatable, and the Senate – 43-22 – voted to include the fee increases in its Game and Fish Bill. That bill itself then passed by a 36-30 margin.

The House passed its Game and Fish Bill three weeks ago. There are key differences in the two bills – the House doesn’t include the fee increases, but does include the earlier fishing opener, for example – so the bills will need to be reconciled in a conference committee.

“This is not a tax – this is a fee,” Ingebrigtsen said on the floor, seeking support for the fee increases. “I need your help today to try to protect our natural resources for future generations to enjoy.”

The bill’s most vocal opponent last week was Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. According to his spokesman, his main concern was the elimination of the conservation fishing license. He supported it this week.

In addition to maintaining that license, Bakk also was successful in adding two amendments to the Game and Fish Bill. One would take 50 cents from each deer license and use the money for wolf management and to pay depredation claims. The other would take 50 cents from the sale of each fishing and hunting license to a school trust fund compensation account.

Hunters and fishermen have long had access to school trust lands, which are intended to raise money for education.

“We have mismanaged these lands for a long time,” said Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park. “It’s time to pay back the kids and it’s time to invest in education.”

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, opposed the amendment.

“Don’t punish the sportsmen for legislative and executive branch errors,” he said.

The fee increases are a key part of the bill. It would raise the cost of a resident fishing license from $17 to $22, and the cost of a resident deer license from $26 to $30. Non-resident deer licenses would increase from $135 to $160, fishing licenses from $37.50 to $39.

The bill contains a wide variety of other increases, too, and also would create a $15 walk-in hunting access validation that anyone who uses walk-in lands would have to buy.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, advocated on behalf of the fee increases. There hasn’t been a general license-fee increase since 2001.

“We all know how inflation has eroded the dollar amount that is available,” she said. “It’s time to look at this and do it.”

Wolf hunting

The bill also establishes a wolf season this year. It would begin with the firearms deer opener.

It gives the DNR commissioner the ability to set quotas and determine how to make licenses available. The agency has said it would sell 6,000 licenses this year and allow hunters and trappers to take up to 400 wolves.

The season would close when the quota is reached.

Much of the debate on the Senate floor revolved around the wolf season.

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