DNR Paints Gloomy Budget Scenario On The Eve Of The Minnesota Fishing Opener

Fisheries management programs across Minnesota will be cut substantially without the $3 increase in fishing licenses, the DNR says. (Brad Dokken photo)

As anglers gear up for another Minnesota Fishing Opener — that most hallowed of outdoors traditions — a gloomy scenario is facing the Department of Natural Resources.

Hunters, anglers and everyone else who enjoys the outdoors stand to lose as a result.

Despite widespread support from Minnesota sportsmen’s groups, state lawmakers ignored requests for a modest increase in hunting and fishing license fees, and the Department of Natural Resources now says it will have no choice but to reduce programs and cut jobs.

Gov. Mark Dayton in his budget proposal had recommended a $3 increase in individual fishing licenses and a $4 increase in the price of a deer license. Lawmakers in the state House and Senate didn’t include the increase in their respective budget plans, and a compromise bill drafted in conference committee and approved by both legislative branches doesn’t include the fee hike, either.

Without an increase, DNR officials say the agency’s Game and Fish Fund will go into the red in 2019. Since that’s not allowed, substantial cuts are on the horizon, DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr has said.

“Anglers will see a noticeable difference in their fishing experience this season without a license fee increase,” Landwehr said Thursday in a statement. “Lake and stream surveys and assessments that give us the information we need to make the best management decisions will be significantly curtailed. Fewer fish will be stocked in more than 200 lakes. And there will be much less time to monitor habitat quality and needs, land use and other factors that have major impacts to Minnesota fisheries.”

And to think that could be avoided if hunters and anglers shelled out another $7 between the two fee increases. Spread over the course of a year, that’s less than 2 cents a day.

I’m sure sportsmen across the state are overjoyed at the prospect of such savings.

The hard-headed mindset lawmakers have displayed in response to the request is unfortunate. Certainly the DNR has an image problem that in some cases may or may not be justified, but when representatives of pretty much all of the state’s hunting and fishing groups support paying a few bucks more for the privileges they enjoy, that’s not right.

We’re talking the price of a scoop of minnows. And it’s not like the DNR is planning to use the money to lavishly spend on new staff positions or programs. We’re talking basic services here.

By DNR numbers, staffing levels are down 13 percent from 10 years ago, yet demand on the resource and challenges such as aquatic invasive species continues to increase.

If sportsmen feel like they’re being ignored, their feeling is justified the way I see it.

Dayton has indicated he will veto the bill.

In a letter to Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen and Rep. Dan Fabian, assistant majority leaders of the Senate and House, respectively, Landwehr outlined the steps the DNR will have to take to compensate for the lack of funding needed simply to maintain staff and programs at current levels.

“In total, the proposal will require a reduction of an estimated 103 current Full Time Employees (FTEs) not including additional reductions expected from the current State Government Omnibus Budget proposal,” Landwehr writes.

The DNR will be forced to lay off at least 29 workers in the Fish and Wildlife Division and possibly as many as 40, Landwehr said. That’s not including other divisions such as Parks and Trails and Forestry that don’t rely on hunting and fishing license dollars.

“Minnesotans are proud of our nationally-recognized outdoor recreation system; our hunting and angling opportunities; and the economic opportunities in our tourism, timber, and mining industries,” Landwehr writes in his letter. “Without fee increases and additional appropriations to maintain our current service levels and make strategic investments, we stand to lose significant ground on making Minnesota the recreation and business development destination for all.”

Anyone who’s fine with that gets what they deserve. Unfortunately, the thousands of sportsmen who don’t feel that way either aren’t being heard or need to do a better job of making their views known.