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Game & Fish Fund needs license fee increases

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A massive number of groups and ordinary citizens are currently stepping forward to tell their state legislator they want to help pay for the state services they use. Unheard of, you say? Unfortunately, it’s more like our legislators are not hearing what you say.

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If you haven’t heard much about the push for an increase in hunting and fishing license fees, it may be because momentum has slowed in the Minnesota House. In the last few days, there are many who think this increase will not happen. With only days before the 2012 session ends, it is important that hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts rally behind this effort if we are going to get the increases passed this year.

There is some confusion that the DNR is already benefitting from the Minnesota Legacy Fund and all of us can certainly agree we don’t need more unnecessary taxes. But if you go to http://www.legacy.leg.mn/ and read up on this fund, you will see that is not the case.

To be clear, this increase in licensing is a user fee in that the only people it affects are those who participate and actually buy a license. What is at stake is the ability for the next generation of family and friends to enjoy Minnesota’s real legacy, our beautiful natural resources.

This is a segment of a message from Tom Landwehr, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR): “The news I want to share is that the Game and Fish Fund – the fund that pays for conservation officers and a whole lot of game and fish work – is in dire condition. It is projected to go negative by as early as July 2013.

This means DNR will need to make significant cuts that affect the quantity and quality of hunting, fishing and natural resource protection unless the State Legislature approves license fee increases during the 2012 session. In my mind, failure to pass this fee increase will begin the rapid erosion of the quality hunting and fishing you have fought so hard to preserve over recent years — the outdoors legacy we will leave to our children and grandchildren.”

Soon the fisheries, wildlife, enforcement plus other services and programs that are funded mainly by hunting and fishing license dollars will run out of money. Our saving grace needs to come in the form of this proposed increase in hunting and fishing license fees. It is important to note that Minnesota fees have not risen since 2001. More importantly, this is the longest period Minnesotans have gone without a fee increase in more than 40 years. The DNR, backed by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, has advocated the fee hike since last year but the measure hasn’t gone anywhere to date because state lawmakers were haggling over budget deficits. We need to push them to get these increases in place this year.

If it is passed, the increases would boost annual funding to the Game and Fish Fund from $11 to $14 million. That is insurance money paid by those who want to see Minnesota’s fishing and hunting flourish. It is worth it, considering it means conservatively $3 billion to Minnesota’s economy. That is what is spent on fishing and hunting every year in Minnesota. If you do some quick math that would be in the neighborhood of $200 million in sales tax annually.

Sixty-plus outdoor and conservation organizations have already signed a letter in support of hunting and fishing license fee to take it to a higher level. Ex-Viking coach and longtime outdoorsman Bud Grant recently addressed the Minnesota Senate about this bill, not a bill for a new football stadium.

“It’s definitely needed,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resource Committee. “We should not let the ‘fee vs. taxes’ rhetoric get in the way of a real need, and I think there’s a real need here.”

“The Game and Fish Fund is headed for the red in the next year or two,” said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation.

“The time to act is now — not next year.” “This is about maintaining and improving fishing in Minnesota,” said John Lenczewski, executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited.

“Staffing and program needs must be addressed,” said Dave Zentner, a Duluth member of the Izaak Walton League of America.

Many of those people and Fishing Hall of Famer Al Linder will be part of a rally at the Minnesota capital in support of this issue. Hopefully the legislators haven’t finished this session prior to a planned Rally at the Capitol on April 23. You can join the rally or call, email or write your local legislators.

In the end, here is what it all means: A resident fishing license would increase from $17 to either $22 or $24, depending on the proposal, while resident small-game licenses would increase from $19 to $22 and deer licenses would increase to $30 from present $26. In the case of the fishing license, this increase is hardly the cost of one scoop of flat head minnows. And I’ll bet you this: The last time you went fishing and bought minnows, half of them expired or you let them go before you used them. Let’s not let our Game and Fish Fund expire over such a small increase in a user fee.

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