Friday, June 2nd, 2023
Friday, June 2nd, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

A look at policy changes, and Minnesota’s outdoors enjoys the fruits of a big surplus

The Get Out More initiative will provide $35 million for improving fish hatcheries in Minnesota, $35 million to enhance boat accesses, $10 million to restore streams and modernize water-related infrastructure, and $25 million to enhance access to public lands. (Stock photo)

St. Paul — The Minnesota Legislature passed the Environment and Natural Resources Conference Committee report last week that would authorize more than $1.6 billion in environment and natural resources spending over the next biennium. Gov. Tim Walz is expected to sign the bill soon.

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, was the co-chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Conference Committee and helped create the bill that was passed in the House and Senate.

The report passed in the House on a 72-57 vote, while the Senate passed it on a 35-32 vote. The report received some bipartisan support in both chambers with one Republican showing support in the Senate and five Republicans in the House. Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, and Sen. Foung Hawj, DFL-St. Paul, were the lead authors and chairs for the conference committee.

The 434-page report breaks down policies for various state agencies including the Minnesota DNR and the Board of Water and Soil Resources. It also shows authorization of $939 million for the DNR and $120.1 million for BWSR over the next two years.

“Overall, we’re really excited about the bill,” said Sarah Strommen, Minnesota DNR commissioner. “It includes $300 million in new funding above DNR’s base … so that level of funding really is going to represent an enhancement of what we can provide to Minnesotans.”

Crossbows during archery hunt; no to rifles statewide

For hunters, one of the biggest policy items that passed allows hunters of any age to use crossbows during the archery season.

Previously, only hunters over the age of 60 could use crossbows or if an individual had a doctor’s approval.

RELATED STORY: Minnesota bonding, cash bills pass in late hours of session; two gun-control measures pass

Strommen and Bob Meier, DNR assistant commissioner, said the crossbow provision took everyone by surprise and it’s a major change. They wanted a hearing to understand the changes and be able to provide an opinion on the topic, but the policy was added as an amendment on the Senate floor before going into conference committee.

Jared Mazurek

Jared Mazurek, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association executive director, said the MDHA is excited for universal crossbow use and they’re even more excited to see the study being done on deer population with the new policy. One of the worries for people regarding this policy was how it may affect deer populations.

“We’re excited to see that requirement for a study comes along with this because we aren’t only here to represent our members and their wishes,” Mazurek said. “We’re also here to represent wild deer, and the only way they have a voice is through quality biological research. We always love seeing that research come out and to fully understand the impact of these policies.”

Sen. Foung Hawj, DFL-St. Paul, was the co-chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Conference Committee and was key to helping the bill get passed in the House and Senate.

The bill said that the DNR must provide a report by Oct. 1, 2025, that shows analysis of the deer population with the change in universal age for crossbow use. The new policy will take effect July 1 of this year.

There were other notable policy changes for hunters. Portable stands will be allowed overnight on WMAs from Nov. 11 to Dec. 31 for deer-hunting season. The policy is enacted after Walz signs the bill.

Another policy item requires hunters who use ground blinds on public land to have a blaze orange safety covering on top of the blind that’s visible 360 degrees. Also, at least 144 square inches of each side of the blind must have blaze orange.

The requirements help with safety on public lands and will be effective for the upcoming hunting seasons.

Two items that weren’t included in the bill were focused on banning wolf hunts and eliminating the shotgun zone in the southern part of Minnesota. The shotgun zone requires hunters in the southern part of the state to not use rifles when hunting deer.

An amendment was added to the bill to eliminate the shotgun zone, but there were exceptions for Olmsted and Dodge counties. As with crossbows, the policy item didn’t have a committee hearing and there wasn’t an opportunity to discuss the matter.

“We still want to continue the conversation on the shotgun zone,” Meier said.

He said the DNR was grateful to have the wolf hunt ban not in the bill. Wolves are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, so they can’t be hunted.

The DNR released its 10-year wolf plan in 2022, and Meier said they want that plan to guide wolf population and future hunting.

Another section of the bill relates to cervidae farms and new language to regulate the farms. Some of the new policy would require fences to be at least 96 inches high, allow moratoriums and no new registrations of cervidae farms, and the transfer of authority for oversight of white-tailed deer farms would go from the Board of Animal Health to the Minnesota DNR.

“It was a multi-year effort and discussion to implement some of the rules and restrictions that we’re going to see come out of this legislative session,” said Brad Gausman, Minnesota Conservation Federation executive director.

Fishing community expects changes with new policies

The biggest component for fisheries in the bill is the $118 million for the Get Out More initiative to modernize and enhance the outdoor experience for Minnesotans.

“In my time, I have never seen this kind of investment come in,” said Mark Holsten, MN-FISH executive director. “It is historical. It’s to those anglers who wanted and believed we could do better here in the state. That credit really needs to go to them.”

The Get Out More initiative will provide $35 million for improving fish hatcheries, $35 million to enhance boat accesses, $10 million to restore streams and modernize water-related infrastructure, and $25 million to enhance access to public lands. Strommen said the $25 million to enhance access could mean a variety of things like accessibility, signage at state parks or boat launches, improving access for WMAs, and helping forestry lands.

The $118 million needs to be used by June 30, 2029.

Along with these budget items, the DNR received money to increase watercraft registration fees. The agency won’t increase fishing license fees or AIS surcharges, which Strommen said is not good for the annual budget.

Many of the budget items the DNR collected from the bill are one-time additions from the $17.5 billion state surplus. The DNR needs to continue to operate on an annual basis and the license fee increases were a way to continue providing to that annual budget. Plus, it’s been more than 10 or more years since watercraft and fishing licenses have been increased.

“Over the course of time, the Legislature has chosen to rely on fees for the DNR budget,” Strommen said. “At some point, if the Legislature wants to provide more share out of the general fund to cover those things that’s another option, but not paying for them is impacting the users and impacting Minnesotans because we can’t provide that with no funding. There could be an alternative, but the Legislature hasn’t provided one, and one-time funding is just not a substitute on ongoing needs.”

There were a couple of key policy items that could affect anglers soon. Anglers have groused about live bait shortages across the state, and a new policy item would allow the DNR to adopt emergency rules when there’s a bait shortage.

The policy would allow the DNR to import minnows from states adjacent to Minnesota. It will be effective once Walz signs the bill.

There were a couple of other policy items for anglers to be aware of from the bill. One is the addition of two lines being used in the Minnesota River downstream of the Granite Falls Dam as well as in the Mississippi River downstream of St. Anthony Falls. This policy will be effective July 1, 2023.

Another item would allow hunters and anglers the ability to have paperless licenses. The policy will be effective on March 1, 2026.

“It’s the most comprehensive budget and policy bill that I’ve ever seen in my career in the past 20 years,” Meier said.

BWSR sees major investment

John Jaschke, Board of Water and Soil Resources executive director, said the investment provided to BWSR from the budget and policy report is the biggest he’s ever seen.

BWSR will receive, over the biennium, $21.1 million for climate-accelerated soil health practices, $21 million for private grasslands and working land restoration easements, $9 million for private lands peatlands restoration, and $2 million for the RIM program.

Jaschke said it’s all one-time money, but it’ll mean substantial opportunities for BWSR. Along with the budget, BWSR saw some new policies for its RIM program, Lawns to Legumes program, and some drainage provisions.

“Everything that we thought was important was in some way shape, or form included, so we’re grateful for that,” he said. “We got everything that was needed and important.”

Share on Social


Hand-Picked For You

Related Articles

For a limited time, you can get full access to breaking news, all original Outdoor News stories and updates from the entire Great Lakes Region and beyond, the most up-to-date fishing & hunting reports, lake maps, photo & video galleries, the latest gear, wild game cooking tips and recipes, fishing & hunting tips from pros and experts, bonus web content and much, much more, all on your smartphone, tablet or desktop For just a buck per month!

Some restrictions apply. Not valid with other promotions. $1 per month for 6 months (you will be billed $6) and then your subscription will renew at standard subscription rates. For more information see Terms and Conditions. This offer only applies to and not for any Outdoor News print subscriptions. Offer valid thru 3/31/23.

Already a subscriber to Click here to login.

Before you go... Get the latest outdoor news sent to your inbox.

Sign up for our free newsletter.

Email Address(Required)
What outdoor activities interest you?