Monday, June 24th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Monday, June 24th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

A recap of Minnesota’s 2024 legislative session and how it impacts outdoor users

A proposed lead ammunition and tackle ban fell by the wayside during the session. The issue was hotly contested early on by affected interests. (Stock photo)

St. Paul — While legislative issues that would affect the outdoors people of Minnesota didn’t feature the drama of other issues during the recently completed session of the Minnesota Legislature, there were, most certainly, moments of intense debate in the state’s House and Senate on natural resources matters.

And, per usual, there were bills along the way that drew the ire of hunters, anglers, and trappers – some of which eventually drifted into the Capitol abyss, while others are destined, now, to become law. There also came from the session legislation that will be placed in the “good” column of sportsmen’s and women’s scorecards.

As the session drew to a raucous close at midnight Sunday, deer hunters in Minnesota already knew this: There would be no change in the state’s shotgun zone during the firearms deer-hunting season. Oft-debated in recent years, legislation to remove the zone appeared again. And again it came with county exemptions – something DNR officials and others don’t find palpable.

There was no change in Minnesota’s shotgun zone during the firearms deer-hunting season. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota DNR)

“Our concern is that it needs to be clean,” Bob Meier, DNR assistant commission, said regarding the desired all-or-nothing change to the zone.

Many opposed to the change have cited safety concerns for retaining the shotgun/slug zone, despite the fact that the zone first came to be as a deer management (conserve deer numbers) initiative.

Most DNR- and hunter/angler/trapper-related legislation was beneath the umbrella of just a few bills: a policy bill that was approved in late April, a Legacy Amendment funding bill (the Outdoor Heritage Fund), which recently was signed by Gov. Tim Walz, and a environment and natural resources supplemental budget bill, recently passed, that included both funding and policy items.


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Here’s a glance at some of the more noteworthy of legislation that emerged from the three-plus-month legislative marathon.

• A late addition to the $193 million in Outdoor Heritage Fund spending was $12 million for an Asian carp barrier on the Mississippi River.

Per the legislation: “Activities within this appropriation include agreements with federal partners, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to design, construct, and begin operating and maintaining a structural deterrent for invasive carp at Lock and Dam No. 5 on the Mississippi River to protect Minnesota’s aquatic habitat through an adaptive management approach. Deterrent design must be fully completed within two years of the date of this appropriation. Deterrent installation must be completed by June 30, 2029.”

Recent state budget forecasts made increased OHF spending possible for the barrier.

The majority of the other OHF dollars spent went to multiphase, long-term projects, some of which are beyond a decade old. Both agencies (the DNR and Board of Water and Soil Resources, for example) and state conservation groups are fund recipients.

The environment and natural resources supplemental budget bill includes about $15 million in total spending. Some examples:

• The bill includes $550,000 for environmental cleanup of a site in Olmsted County’s Haverhill Township, where the dollars will be spent to remove old tires and solid waste.

• $1 million will be used to fund a pilot program that “provides financial assistance to eligible applicants for the purchase of lawn and snow removal equipment powered solely by electricity.” The state Pollution Control Agency must “engage with environmental justice communities to design eligibility criteria that prioritize applications from residents of environmental justice areas.”

• $2.6 million was made available for the DNR to develop and update and electronic licensing system.

• $300,000 is available for the DNR “to maintain current law enforcement service levels.”

• $2 million is available for the DNR to plant trees in state parks and state recreation areas.

• $200,000 is available to “reimburse county sheriffs and other local law enforcement agencies for search-and-rescue operations related to recreational activities on unsafe ice …”

Further, “Reimbursement … is limited to 50% of the reimbursable costs subject to a maximum state payment of $5,000 per agency for each search-and-rescue operation.”

• $500,000 is available for the DNR to “create new or expand existing outreach and education programs for nonnative English-speaking communities.” Of that, $300,000 is for the Fishing in the Neighborhood program “for outreach to new and underserved audiences.”

• Meier also pointed out changes in whitetail importation. For example, per the legislation, “Heads from cervids with or without the cape and neck attached that originate from outside Minnesota may be transported into Minnesota only if they are delivered to a licensed taxidermist within 48 hours of entering Minnesota.

Correspondingly, the bill also includes new rules for taxidermists’ disposal of cervid carcasses.

• For each of the next eight years, $1 million will be available for the DNR to update the public water inventory. According to Meier, this will equate to inventorying waters in 12 counties each year.

• The Legislature also OK’d changes to restrictions on elk herd management in northwestern Minnesota – this as tribal and state officials plan to, in future years, relocate elk from the northwest to northeastern Minnesota.

Per the legislation: “The DNR may manage the Kittson Central elk herd population to allow for genetic diversification and herd health. The herd may not be allowed to exceed 130% of the estimated 2023 population.”

Further, the DNR “must work with the Grygla and Kittson elk working groups, private landowners, local units of government, and Minnesota tribal nations to develop a plan to enhance the size and range of Minnesota’s elk population and provide increased recreational opportunities while maintaining a positive existence for the long-term management of the population.”

Legislation in previous years restricted herd growth to limit crop depredation caused by elk in the northwest.

• $1,332,000 for maintenance, repair, energy efficiency improvements, heating and ventilation system replacement, and visitor enhancements to the building currently leased to the International Wolf Center in Ely.

The omnibus policy bill (HF 4124) approved in April contained the following for outdoors users:

• “If a person uses an electronic device to display a document to a conservation officer or peace officer, the officer is immune from liability for any damage to the device, unless the officer does not exercise due care in handling the device; and it does not constitute consent for the officer to access other contents on the device.”

• “Validation” has replaced tagging requirements regarding big-game harvests.

• Regarding the general definition of a number of fish species, from buffalo to sucker to drum and others, they’ll henceforth be referenced as “native rough fish” rather than, simply, “rough fish.”

• The DNR’s citizens oversight committees (fisheries, wildlife and budgetary) were eliminated and replaced by a single Fish and Wildlife Oversight Committee, appointed by the DNR commissioner, and consisting of 15 members.

Committee members will make recommendations to the Legislature and the DNR commissioner for desired outcomes related to protecting, restoring, and enhancing fish and wildlife habitat; fish and wildlife population management; fish and wildlife monitoring and research; communications and engagement; and improvements in the management and use of money in the game and fish fund, per the legislation.

In gun-related legislation, a proposal regarding gun storage was dumped. Instead, legislation only imposes tougher penalties regarding “straw” purchases (buying guns for those who are restricted from gun possession), and a ban on binary triggers.

The Legislature also failed to pass a capital spending (bonding) bill.

Funding proposed for the DNR primarily would’ve been directed toward asset preservation.

Also, a proposed lead ammunition and tackle ban fell by the wayside during the session. The issue was hotly contested early on by affected interests.

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