The council charged with distributing Legacy Amendment funds for projects that benefit the outdoors voted Tuesday to set aside $3 million for the fight against invasive Asian carp.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had requested $10 million for a project that would likely involve installing a sound and bubble barrier near Prescott, Wis., to deter Asian carp from the St. Croix River.
DNA testing confirmed last month that there are likely silver carp in the St. Croix River, though no fish have been captured so far. Gov. Mark Dayton held an Asian carp summit last week to discuss plans to keep the invasive species out of Minnesota waters.
Members of the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council expressed frustration that the proposal was not backed by more evidence that shows such a barrier will be effective in keeping the invaders out. They also decided to reduce the amount of money set aside in order to force the DNR to seek similar funds from Wisconsin and the federal government for the project.
The Asian carp proposal was not among the projects on a final list being considered by the council, but members had made an additional call for projects dealing with invasive species.
At one point, it appeared the council was going to overlook the Asian carp proposal entirely and instead spend more money on other projects. The prospect of no Legacy funds to fight Asian carp angered council member Denny McNamara, a Republican state representative from Hastings.
"We're supposed to be leaders here," he said, adding that he didn't care if the Asian carp proposal didn't meet the council's earlier deadlines. "To think that we don't have time and the people of Minnesota send us to say, 'oh, a deadline is here and you didn't apply in time,' well tell that to the carp going up the river."
Council Chairman David Hartwell described the Asian carp situation as "somewhat of a crisis" and argued money should be set aside regardless of the fact that many other projects that met an earlier deadline would miss the cut.
"It's on our doorstep," he said as members debated the proposal. "Nothing good will come from waiting."
The DNR will only get the money after the council signs off on a plan of accomplishments, and DNR officials have said they will not go through with the project if researchers determine it won't be effective.
Steve Hirsch, director of ecological resources for the DNR, said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr is drafting a letter to send to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to ask for financial support for the project. Officials were also looking for other sources of state funding as well as federal dollars.
Hirsch said Minnesota officials want to get started as soon as possible.
"We don't have the luxury of time here. These things have been knocking on the door," he said. "We've been seeing periodic catches of big head and silver carp. Nobody knows how much time we have, but we can't assume we have time to think about this or study it."
Among the other projects recommended to receive about $96 million in Legacy outdoors money next year was a plan to acquire some 2,000 acres of land along the Mississippi River north of Brainerd. The Trust for Public Land has a purchase agreement with the Potlatch Corp. but will have to come up with some additional dollars because the council did not allocate the full $14.5 million requested.
Other projects included restoration of the Lower St. Louis River, habitat restoration along the Cannon River, moose habitat in northeastern Minnesota, and recovery and enhancement of wetlands, shallow lakes and prairie in various areas of the state. A total of 29 projects were recommended for funding.
Projects that didn't receive funding included $350,000 for a research project on Zequanox, a dead form of a bacteria that has been shown to kill invasive zebra mussels without harming native species. The Douglas County Lakes Association had hoped to see if it would be possible to use Zequanox to control zebra mussels in lakes, but many council members said a project that was straight research would not fit with the constitutional guidelines for the Legacy Amendment.
To pay for the Asian carp project, the council shaved off a little from each of the other projects being recommended for funding.
The council will send its recommendations to the Legislature, which has the ultimate authority over how the money is spent. Lawmakers have generally approved the nonpartisan council's recommendations in years past.
(Minnesota Public Radio received $2.6 million in Legacy arts funding during the last two-year state budget cycle.)