MEETING NOTES. The DNR held its annual Roundtable event last Friday, and here are some observations on the day.
• Attendees devoted ample chatter to Gov. Tim Walz’s Thursday, Jan. 19, announcement on the second phase of his “One Minnesota Budget.” It includes the one-time $118 million “Get Out More” initiative, which contains dollars for improving fish hatcheries and boat launches. The MN-FISH group has been advocating for this basic infrastructure spending for more than a year, and when the 2022 session collapsed, dollars that Walz had earmarked for the priority didn’t happen. We’ll see if the DFL-dominated Legislature gets it done in 2023.
During the day’s “opening conversation” (that included an assertive Walz), Ann Mulholland from The Nature Conservancy thanked him for including those dollars in the “economic future” portion of his administration’s overall budget. Hunting, fishing, and other outdoors recreational expenditures drive Minnesota businesses and thousands of jobs, so including it in the budget’s economic portion helps deliver that message to the general public.
• You’ll likely be reading a lot about Howard Vincent in coming months as the longtime leader of Pheasants Forever transitions into retirement in
June. Those accolades kicked off at the Roundtable when Walz declared Friday, Jan. 20, “Howard Vincent Day” in Minnesota. The DNR also gave
Vincent a lifetime achievement award. One of the most respected conservation CEOs in the nonprofit sector, Vincent deserves all the
kudos he gets.
• By late in the day, I heard a few complaints that the Roundtable content was running light on hook-and-bullet topics. For an event that consumes a
lot of Fish and Wildlife Division man hours and budget, (F&W pays for two-thirds of the day’s expenses; eco-services pays for the other third), one might expect more hunting and fishing content. That, however, has been a growing lament for years, and there’s no sign that it’ll change anytime soon.
• During a solid session on technology steadily creeping into the outdoors, some discussion emerged on the growing presence of forward-facing sonar in sportfishing. Anyone paying attention to modern fishing knows how this technology has upped the game of anglers. Several guides quietly have wondered aloud to me: As the price of the units decreases and more anglers use them, what will their effect be on some fisheries? Especially schooling, suspended species like crappies? This technology isn’t going anywhere, but it would seem to be a logical topic for an event like the Roundtable.
• Keynote speaker Emily Larson, the mayor of Duluth, plugged public lands. As northeast Minnesota residents know, the area’s real estate market is booming, in part because people love its easy access to the outdoors. The community’s 9,000-plus acres of public lands, including area trout streams, are part of Duluth’s culture, she said, and the city will protect additional open space this year.
“Mostof those lands, we can’t tax, but they’re our biggest asset,” she said. “Public lands matter. It’s paramount to who we are.”
• I sat in the long-term funding discussion, “4 the Outdoors: 4 steps in 4 years to ensure the future of conservation and outdoor recreation in Minnesota.” In an era of declining license sales, the Strommen DNR unveiled plans to investigate long-term natural resources funding options a couple of roundtables ago. The public policy component that’s gotten people’s attention is talk of a possible new excise tax. Based on what I heard Friday, we’re a solid year-plus out before there’s anything resembling a specific proposal that would emerge legislatively or otherwise.