Minnesota approves hunting and fishing fee hike, wolf hunt

St. Paul — Fishing and hunting license fees would rise, and the first state-managed wolf hunting and trapping season would be held this fall, under legislation the House and Senate approved last Saturday.

Gov. Mark Dayton hadn’t taken action on the bill as of Outdoor News’ press time this week, though he was expected to sign it.

Game and Fish bills have been contentious in past years – there have been gubernatorial vetoes – and this year was no different. The license-fee increases, wolf hunt, and a shooting-range provision were among the most disagreed-upon portions of the bill.

“There were lots of reasons (for certain legislators) to vote against it,” said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation. “We really appreciate the people who voted for it. There were a lot of reasons to walk away.”

The bill, carried by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and Rep. Tom  Hackbarth, R-Cedar, squeaked by both bodies with the narrowest of margins. The House passed it 68-62, with 57 Republicans and 11 Democrats in favor. The Senate vote was 34-28, with 25 Republicans and nine Democrats in favor.

“We’re pretty lucky,” said Bob Meier, DNR legislative affairs director.

License fees

The most difficult aspect of passing the bill was the fishing and hunting license fee increase, Hackbarth said.

“We had to do it – it’s been 11 years without an increase,” he said. “But we still demand the same high-quality hunting and fishing that we’re used to. We had to do this. It was way overdue.”

The DNR said the increases were necessary to prevent the Game and Fish Fund, which pays for much of the fish and wildlife management in the state, from going into the red. Had fees not been increased, drastic budget reductions would have been necessary to keep the fund solvent.

The increases would go into effect next year. Some of the increases are as follows:

  • Resident small-game licenses from $12.50 to $15.50; turkey licenses from $23 to $26; archery, firearms, and muzzleloader deer licenses from $26 to $30.
  • Nonresident small-game licenses from $73 to $90.50; archery, firearms, and muzzleloader deer licenses from $135 to $160; bear licenses from $195 to $225.
  • Resident fishing licenses from $17 to $22; combined license for married couple from $25 to $35.
  • Nonresident fishing license from $37.50 to $40; seven-day fishing license from $26.50 to $33.

The bill also creates new license options, including a three-day fishing license for residents ($12); a three-year fishing license for residents ($63); and a $5 fishing license for 16- and 17-year-old residents and nonresidents.

Both Ingebrigtsen and Hackbarth said one of the bill’s focuses was to make hunting and fishing more accessible to youngsters.

“We need to hook a few more into hunting and fishing,” Ingebrigtsen said.

One part of the bill directs 50 cents of each deer license to go into the wolf management account. Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said he was confused by the rationale.

Wolf hunting

Hunters would have their first crack at wolves on the opening day of the firearms deer season, under the bill’s wolf-season provision.

“Arguably, the most important thing in the Game and Fish Bill is the wolf hunting and trapping season,” said Garry Leaf, executive director of Sportsmen for Change. “That’s a big deal of historical significance.”

The bill sets wolf licenses at $30 for resident hunters and trappers. A nonresident hunting license would cost $250 (nonresidents wouldn’t be allowed to trap wolves).

The DNR plans to offer 6,000 licenses. The harvest quota would be 400 animals.

While the bill requires the agency to start a season at the same time as the deer season, it may propose another season, too.

“We’ll also likely propose a second, later season as well that’s more specifically for people who are actively seeking wolves,” said Ed Boggess, director of the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division.

The trapping season likely would coincide with that season, he said.

“Once we’ve got a specific proposal we will announce it, and take public comment on it as well,” Boggess said.

Walk-In, venison donation

The bill maintains both the state’s venison donation and walk-in hunting access programs.

But funds that in the past have supported the donation program instead will go to the walk-in program. That includes a surcharge on nonresident hunting licenses and money from the venison donation account. ($616,000 from that account would be transferred to the walk-in program. That would leave about $165,000 left in the account, which is slightly more than what deer hunters have donated to the program.)

Going forward, the venison donation program still would receive $1 from each bonus deer license sold.

When hunters purchase a small-game license, they would be asked if they wanted to make a donation to the walk-in hunting access program.

Johnson, who said he’s glad the donation program was retained, called using venison donation program dollars for walk-in access a little bit of a stretch, but said it will provide opportunity for some deer hunters.

“We can’t expect to have more hunters being recruited, and to retain our hunters, if we don’t have places for them to hunt,” Johnson said.

Other aspects of the bill include:

  • Deals with importation of minnows that some people in the aquaculture business put in wetlands and use to feed fish. They would be unable to import minnows for that purpose as of July 1, 2013, Boggess said. In the meantime, the DNR would be required to work with the aquaculture industry “to report to the Legislature on the risks of introducing invasive carp through transportation of fish between water bodies and include any recommended changes to state laws or rules.”
  • Modifies regulations related to body-gripping traps. The DNR has its doubts about whether the modification will lower the number of dogs that are captured.
    “The provision that’s in the bill, nobody has tested that as a regulation,” Boggess said. “We don’t know how effective it will be.”
  • Allows hunters to take ducks in open-water areas as prescribed by the commissioner. The agency has no specific plans for using that provision now, but could in the future.
  • Additional authority for the DNR to conduct temporary drawdowns to manage shallow lakes.
  • Modifies deer-baiting restrictions.
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