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DNR commissioner says Minnesotans spoke up in support of the outdoors

MINNEAPOLIS — An outcry by Minnesotans who hunt, fish, use state parks and ride snowmobiles and ATVs helped the Department of Natural Resources get most of the money it requested from the Legislature, Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Wednesday.

That wasn’t a foregone conclusion. The budget bills that first emerged from the House and Senate left out all, or nearly all, the user fee increases the agency sought, and the hikes didn’t make it into the DNR’s budget bill until the very end of the session, the commissioner said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“The public got very vocal as they saw what was coming out of the individual houses. They said, ‘Wait a minute. We want these fee increases,’ Landwehr said. “I think that’s why the conference committee put them back in. The impacts would have been quite consequential.”

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the original environment and natural resources budget bill that the House and Senate passed May 9, which did not include the hunting, fishing, park, boat, snowmobile and ATV fee increases the DNR said were necessary to avoid deep cuts to programs enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of Minnesota residents. Those increases didn’t appear until a House-Senate conference committee unveiled a new bill on the final weekend of the regular session. Lawmakers passed it May 21, and the governor signed it Tuesday.

“What I want people to understand is the citizens who use parks and trails, go hunting and fishing, are the ones who benefited here,” Landwehr said. “It’s a huge victory for conservation to end up where we did.”

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who was on the conference committee, concurred that public pressure made the difference. Lawmakers didn’t see an immediate public appetite for fee increases early in the session, he said, but outdoors groups eventually spoke up.

“When there’s that much support out there, it’s much easier for us to pass that,” Ingebrigtsen said.

Ingebrigtsen said people who enjoy the outdoors will get their money’s worth from the fee increases, which average just a few dollars, pointing out that they’re likely to spend much more on tackle and minnows on the way to their favorite fishing holes.

“We have just a jewel of an environment to be able to hunt, fish and trail ride,” he said. “To spend another $4 for a fishing license or another $4 for a white-tail deer license is still a tremendous value.”