Minnesota's Game and Fish Bill limits flexibility, but doesn’t halt acquisition

St. Paul — A small section in the recently passed Game and Fish Bill includes a restriction on land purchase – both easement and fee title – but DNR officials say it should have little practical effect.

The language in question reads like this: “Except (for the small-game surcharge) revenue from the sale of game and fish licenses and permits, excluding revenue from hunting and fishing stamps, shall not be used to acquire land in fee or easement.”

While agency officials didn’t like the language, they say it will have minimal impact, other than reducing flexibility.

“Very little” of the revenue from sales of fishing and hunting licenses goes for land acquisition, said Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section chief.

The provision specifically exempts the $6.50 small-game license surcharge, half of which must be used for land costs. The DNR also uses some stamp proceeds for land acquisition – easements on trout streams, for example – but the provision excludes those revenues, too.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, carried the bill in the House and added the language to the bill.

“We have a lot of comments from Republicans – conservative Republicans – that we have Legacy money, LCCMR money, etc.,” Hackbarth said. “We have a lot of contentious issues centered around that when you talk to Republicans.

“We had to get a bill through the Legislature in very, very difficult times,” he added. “I wanted to make it clear that those fee increases were not going to go to land purchases and easements.”

The fee increases to which he referred were those pushed by the DNR and in bills authored by Hackbarth and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria. The agency said the increases were necessary to prevent the Game and Fish Fund from becoming insolvent in July 2013.

Included in the increases are resident fishing licenses increasing from $17 to $22, deer licenses from $26 to $30. There also are hikes on nonresidents, though the majority of youth licenses will be $5 beginning next year.

Though the agency typically uses revenues collected from license fees for operations – staffing, for example – there have been some instances when it’s been used to complete a land transaction, Simon said.

“If we get toward the end of our fiscal year and we have a land acquisition (funded through the small-game surcharge account) but not enough money to complete the transaction, traditionally we would supplement it with Game and Fish Fund money to complete the transaction,” he said.

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