Reporting Bill Hudson
ST. PAUL (WCCO) — It’s a big part of our state’s identity in this land of 10,000 lakes and vast expanse of forests. But that hunting and fishing culture doesn’t come without a cost.
The state Department of Natural Resources manages a $94 million game and fish fund. It pays for everything from habitat improvement and enforcement to the creel surveys and game modeling, which determine each season’s bag limits.
Of that, what you fork over for hunting or fishing licenses pays only a portion of the cost.
“The game and fish fund is going to go underwater,” said Gary Botzek, with the Minnesota Conservation Federation.
His group is one of more than 60 outdoor and sports groups that are asking to pay higher license fees for the privilege of hunting, fishing and boating.
According to the broad coalition, the last time Minnesota game and fish license fees increased was back in 2001. That’s when gasoline was selling for $1.75 per gallon.
“We’ve got a major battle going on. We’re under resourced and we need some long-term sustainable funding to do this, year after year after year,” added Steve Morse, executive director of Minnesota Environmental Partnership.
After more than a decade of no increases to hunting and fishing licenses, the reality is that the DNR’s game and fish fund is going broke. It will be in the red as early as this summer, after losing roughly $7.6 million in revenue.
If nothing is done soon, the DNR’s Director of Fish and Wildlife Ed Boggess warns that critical programs and protections will suffer.
“We’re to that point where we’re talking everything from staff, officers, equipment, boats, trucks, surveys, conservation officers, stocking and monitoring programs,” said Boggess.
So, the DNR, along with the coalition of sports groups say it’s time to pay for the privilege. A bill is now being debated in the Minnesota Senate to do just that.
“If I fish, I pay. If you don’t want to fish or hunt, my taxes don’t go up, I don’t have to pay for the fee,” said State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources committee.
The committee took initial testimony on just how much additional funding will be needed. Under the Senate plan, resident angling licenses would rise from $17 to $22. A married couple’s fishing license would jump from $25 to $35.
Hunting licenses increase, too. A small game license is proposed to increase from $19 to $22. A resident deer hunting license would rise from $26 to $30.