State Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr called on lawmakers Thursday to approve an increase to hunting and fishing licenses, warning that the DNR's programs are already "beginning to look like Swiss cheese" and will face immediate cuts if lawmakers do not increase fees.
"If we miss this chance, the fund goes into the red just a little over a year from now," Landwehr told MPR's Morning Edition. "We can't go into the red, so we will have to start cutting programs essentially right after session if funding doesn't come up."
Earlier this week, the state Senate voted down an amendment to increase the fees. The amendment would have increased the annual fishing license fee for residents from $17 to $22. The annual deer hunting license fee for residents would have gone up from $26 to $30. The DNR supports a hike in fees, which have remained the same for more than a decade.
When asked if Gov. Mark Dayton has lobbied hard enough to win support for the amendment among DFL lawmakers, Landwehr said, "Well, obviously not. We should have more support from the governor's party, I agree, and we're working on that."
The DNR is trying to revive the bill at the state Capitol before the end of the session. Landwehr said a rally, led by anglers and hunters who support the fee increase, will be held at the Capitol on April 23.
"I think what maybe some people don't realize is that we have support from the entire hook and bullet community here, you know the people who are going to pay this fee," he said.
Hunters and anglers, he said, are "lining up behind us to request that increase because they know the implications if it doesn't pass."
Landwehr said the DNR depends solely on revenues from license fees to fund its hunting and angling programs. The fees, he said, have not kept pace with costs.
"The last time we had a fee increase, gas was $1.74, and as you can imagine, covering a state the size of Minnesota, a lot of our expense is in things like gas and people and supplies, all of which have gone up dramatically," he said. "So we've been tightening our belt for five years, and we're at the point where we're just, our programs are beginning to look like Swiss cheese."
Minnesota's hunting and fishing licenses fees are low compared to many other states, he said. He questioned whether that makes sense in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
"I think the bottom line is if you are an outdoors person, Minnesota is just an outstanding place to be," he said. "We have got blue ribbon hunting and fishing and outdoor recreation in this state and it's not by accident. It's by careful management, and that requires funding. And without these increases, we're going to see a pretty steep and potentially long-lasting decline in those opportunities."