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Bill to raise hunting, fishing licenses gains support

A game and fish bill that unanimously passed the Minnesota Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday seems to be gaining steam as conservation groups from around the state voice their support.

The bill would raise the cost of many hunting and fishing licenses in Minnesota.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says getting legislation passed in the current session is necessary to keep it from going into the red in the summer of 2013. Similar legislation was introduced in 2011 but went nowhere in a tough economic climate.

The DNR says things have only gotten worse for them since then. Glenwood Area Fisheries Supervisor Dean Beck said they have already had to lay off one employee locally and haven't been able to hire seasonal help in the last year.

"From my vantage point as a manager, we're getting to be in dire straits," Beck said. "I guess I would highlight that even with the fee increases, we're just looking at maintaining services, rather than building."

Beck says there are already 20 vacancies that have been left unfilled in the region. Without a boost in funds, more layoffs could take place. That affects the DNR's ability to conduct the surveys that help them properly manage fish and wildlife in the area.

Gene Sullivan of the fish stocking committee with the local Viking Sportsmen's group said local stocking efforts would be affected. The DNR is on board to help the Viking Sportsmen in its stocking of walleye fingerlings this fall but were not able to make a five-year commitment without knowing what its budget will be.

"We have a lot of lakes in our area that will be affected by it," Sullivan said. "There's no money there. They need to keep on doing what they've been doing. We're 100 percent behind the DNR and their efforts. I can't speak for the entire club, but from the people I have talked to, they are all in favor of it."

Conservation groups from around the state have stepped up to try to get a bill passed. More than 60 conservation and environmental organizations have signed on in support of raising the license fees. Many conservation leaders made their voices heard in a press conference held in the State Office Building on Tuesday before the bill was introduced that afternoon.

Senate Environment and Natural Resources chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, says that carries a lot of weight among him and his peers. He said he has also received countless e-mails from individuals who support the proposals. Those who oppose have the choice of not purchasing a license.

"We're not talking tax increases where everybody has to pay," Ingebrigtsen said. "The people who actually want the fees to go up, the ones who pay for the resources, are coming to us and saying, 'We need this.' It's really kind of an interesting phenomenon."

Under the DNR proposals, a resident fishing license would go from $17 to $24. A resident small-game license would rise from $19 to $22 and a resident deer license would go from $26 to $30. Resident youth fishing licenses would actually decrease from $17 to $12. If passed, the new fees would go into effect in March of 2013.

It would mark the first significant raise in fishing license fees since 2001 and the first in hunting license fees since 2000. When asked to put a number to the chances legislation gets passed in the current session, Ingebrigtsen said he would put it at 75-85 percent likelihood.

"Now that can change," he said. "When you're dealing with the Senate and the House, you're dealing with a lot of different attitudes. But in general, I think the ad­min­­i­stra­tion is certainly behind it. I'm not getting any pushback from the DFL other than a couple who simply don't like fees...I think it might be even higher than that. In the high 80s to 90s."

The 11 years without a jump in prices is already the longest interval between fee increases in 40 years, according to the DNR. Beck knows there is bound to be some opposition to any increase, but says it's simply necessary to provide the proper wildlife management.

"They do get a lot of service in terms of the stocking programs and wildlife management areas to hunt in," Beck said. "It costs a lot to manage and maintain those areas. A good share of those dollars also goes into enforcement. I like to think we're giving a good service to people for that money."

See related story Hunters, anglers: 'Raise fees we pay'.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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