Conference committee game and fish bill ready for floor votes

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

A variety of resident and nonresident hunting and fishing license fee increases highlight the game and fish conference committee report agreed to by Senate and House conferees late Thursday, April 26.

The report does not include the proposed early start to the regular fishing season — an idea proposed by lawmakers several weeks ago.

“It’s a pretty darn good bill,” said Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, who carried license fee legislation in the House and served on the conference committee.

Under the report, which faces up or down votes on House and Senate floors, resident lifetime small game, deer hunting, angling, and most lifetime angling and spearing licenses would increase.

Resident small game licenses would increase by $3; resident deer hunting licenses by $4.

Combating the spread of Asian carp is one aspect of environment and outdoor bills coming up for votes or heading to the governor. These Asian carp fingerlings at a Wisconsin research facility look demur, but can grow into 30, 40, 50 pound fish. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Hunting and fishing licenses for young outdoors people, age 13 to 18, would only cost $5 under the bill.

Including the $5 license provision for youngsters was a key provision for Hackbarth.

Resident fishing licenses will increase from $17 to $22. Nonresident fishing license would increase from $37.50 to $40.

A driving reason behind the license fee increases is that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) critical game and fish fund is fiscally ebbing, and officials warn that without an infusion of money the fund could dip into the red by next summer.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth

The hunting and fishing license fee increases would enrich the fund by about $10 million a year.

Other fee increases are included in the bill.

Snowmobile registration fees would increase from $45 to $75.

State snowmobile trail fees for individuals for one year would increase from $15 to $35.

One controversial provision, championed by Hackbarth and others in the Republican House, deals with access to shooting ranges by youngsters participating in DNR gun safety classes.

One Rochester lawmaker in the House floor debate on the provision said a local law enforcement agency said it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply with the access provision.

In the report, shooting ranges within the seven-county metro area, which are funded in part or in whole by public dollars, must open their range to DNR firearm instruction course twice in the spring and twice again in the summer.

The provision would apply only to classes taught by DNR firearm instructors.

Gun ranges in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are exempt.

Ranges at prisons are also exempt from the provision.

“We made a number of compromises,” said Hackbarth of crafting the final shooting range language.

Ranges may charge fees for the use of their range.

Other items in the report include a provision mandating the ongoing electronic sales of hunting and fishing licenses in the event of the a state government shutdown.

Provisions relating to the establishment of a gray wolf hunting and trapping season are in the bill.

The open season to take gray wolves with guns will begin each year on the same day as the opening of the firearms deer hunting season — something deer hunters wanted.

A walk-in access program is established to provide public access to wildlife habitat on private land for hunting, excluding trapping, is established.

Some $616,000 from the venison donation account in the special revenue fund is directed to the walk-in access account.

Although House Republicans proposed getting rid of the venison donation program — concern over lead fragments in the venison has officials X-raying donated meat at a cost approaching $4 a pound — the donation program was not eliminated.

“I opposed it all along,” said Hackbarth of the program. That’s because he was concern the donations, which should be something worked out between deer hunters and food shelves, would become entangled in state government.

“I want to go back to that,” said Hackbarth of deer hunters simply working things out with the food shelves.

About $155,000 remains in the venison donation account and a deer bonus tag surcharge for the program remains in place.

Another provision approving the use of remote-controlled motorized decoys for taking migratory waterfowl and mourning doves is included in the report.

Yet another provision limits the size certain traps that can be set on public lands.

Certain exemptions are provided.

In other outdoor-related action, the legacy funding bill, which is funded by revenue from the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Act constitutional amendment, was passed the Senate on Thursday (April 27) and sent to the governor.

“There are about $300 million in requests every year, so we have to ‘weed through’ the requests. We generally have near unanimous support every year,” said chief author of the bill and Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, in a statement.

About 10 percent of the funding, some $11 million, was slotted toward combating invasive species.

The threat of such invasive species, as Asian carp, were highlighted on April 19 by commercial fishermen fishing the mouth of the St. Croix River who netted a 30-pound Asian bighead carp.

Other Asian carp have been caught in the Mississippi River this year.

Indeed, eDNA water testing for Asian carp have scored positive hits on the Mississippi River as far north as the Coon Rapids Dam.

A number of Asian carp funding mechanisms exist in various bills.