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Minnesota lawmakers start work with extra cash, many outdoor issues

Governor’s plan would complete Lake Vermilion State Park

Lake Vermilion State park
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has proposed using $12 million from the state’s construction/bonding bill to build out Lake Vermilion State Park, one of several outdoor-related issues at the Capitol during the 2022 legislative session that starts Monday.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR
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DULUTH — The 2022 Minnesota legislative session starts Monday, and, while the old saying suggests you'd better check your wallet whenever lawmakers are at the Capitol, this year they may be sending money to you.

The state has a $7.7 billion surplus, beyond what’s expected to be needed to run state government for the next two years, and it’s possible some of that money will go back to taxpayers in some form, such as a rebate check or tax refund.

The governor announced the plan Tuesday as part of his priorities for Minnesota's $7.75 billion budget surplus.

But some of the extra money may also go to fix critical problems around the state, including the sorry state of some outdoor venues, like state park roads, buildings, trails and bridges.

Some state lawmakers also are eyeing the surplus to do things like pay farmers more money to keep their land as wildlife habitat instead of growing crops.

Gov. Tim Walz has proposed a $2 billion state-funded construction package, called the bonding bill, that includes $220 million for the Department of Natural Resources. Of that, $12 million would got to the Soudan Undergound Mine/Lake Vermilion State Park near Tower, $8 million would go to dam safety and removal projects statewide and $7.8 million would go for new water-bombing aircraft to fight forest fires.

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Half of that bonding money for DNR, $110 million, would go to fix and repair current facilities. The plan also includes $15 million to purchase new public lands, such as wildlife management areas.

“The governor’s proposal is an historic investment in natural resources,” said Dave Olfelt, director of the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division.

The bonding bill, like all others, will be reworked by the House and Senate before a final version heads to the governor to become law.

Other outdoor policy issues likely to be discussed, argued and possibly voted on this session include chronic wasting disease and deer farms, namely how to thwart the spread of the always fatal deer family disease that has been slowly spreading, both in the wild and on deer farms across the state.

There’s growing support for a plan by deer hunters and conservation groups for the state to ban deer farms and buy out their current livestock. Wildlife experts say the movement of captive deer and elk, within the state and between states, has helped spread CWD faster.

Olfelt said the DNR and state Board of Animal Health on Feb. 1 will submit a report to the Legislature on results from the first half-year of the two agencies’ joint management of deer farms in the state. Olfelt said that report will include proposals on how current deer farm regulations should be changed to mitigate the spread of CWD.

Meanwhile, bills are already introduced or expected at the Capitol that would:

  • Expand the state’s rules on nontoxic ammunition for hunting as concerns mount over wildlife deaths caused by lead poisoning.
  • Regulate the use of small lead fishing sinkers and jigs, mostly those under one-half ounce, which are known to kill loons that accidentally ingest them while looking for small rocks to digest their food.
  • Limit how and where some traps are set in an effort to prevent the accidental deaths of dogs caught in traps, especially snares.
  • Require or prevent the DNR from holding a wolf hunt. Those conflicting bills were introduced last year and may arise again this year. Both failed last year, leaving the issue up to the agency to decide. The wolf's protection status currently is the subject of a federal lawsuit and DNR officials are waiting for a final version of a new state wolf management plan, expected later this year, before making any changes to state wolf policy.
  • Lower the statewide daily limit for walleyes from six to four, except on lakes that already have special regulations.

“We’re continuing to work with Senator (Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point) and other lawmakers on the walleye limit reduction,” Olfelt said, noting the bill was introduced and discussed in the 2021 session.
Ruud, who supports the reduced limit, is chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

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READ MORE FROM JOHN MYERS
The Rainy River watershed is overflowing from Lake Vermilion to Lake of the Woods, with flood records possible.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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