Are politicians playing word games with our tax dollars?

Published 1:23 am Friday, April 2, 2010

This past Saturday a group of area sportsmen met with Representative Robin Brown at the American Legion in Albert Lea. The meeting was at noon and there were about 14 sportsmen in attendance who were members of various outdoors organizations such as the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Minnesota Waterfowl Association, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants

Forever, Muskies Inc. and the Fountain Lake Sportsmen’s Club. The meeting was arranged by Jack Adams, past president of the area MDHA who had asked Rep. Brown if she would be interested in attending and addressing some of the concerns they had about the distribution of funding for the Outdoor Heritage Fund portion of the Lessard-Sams bill. The first thing Rep. Brown told everyone was that she always goes strictly by the amendment we voted on. It was a general consensus that everyone was satisfied with the way the money from the first year of the bill was disbursed but had some concerns in light of what transpired at the end of last year’s session.

The main concern of those in attendance was that in the 11th hour of the last legislative session a bill was introduced and passed to change the language that the Lessard-Sams Council had recommended be used as a legislative guide when disbursing these funds. Rep. Brown was adamant in the fact that the language in the constitutional amendment that we taxpayers voted on had not changed. This is true; it could not be changed because we, the taxpayers had voted on this language. The main concern of the various sportsmen in attendance is not about the amendment itself but with the language in the guide used for disbursing these funds.

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Rep. Brown said the language was changed to make it easier to understand. The sportsmen and voters of Minnesota understand the words habitat, fish, game and wildlife, which pertains to the outdoor part of the bill, but had a hard time understanding the reasoning behind replacing those words with “ecosystems.”

This year the legislative guide was revisited and was approved by a bipartisan committee. The guide does now include the words fish, game and wildlife along with the word habitat. This interpretation reads better than the 11th hour draft done last year, but the last sentence leaves that little “chink” in the armor that could open these funds up for other avenues.

The last paragraph reads as follows, “Public benefits should include not only increased hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities but also increased biological diversity and enhanced water quality.”

What does this mean?

In the bill passed in 2008 the three main parts of the Outdoor Heritage fund were enhance, protect and restore. In the definitions of these three parts developed by the Lessard-Sams Council the words “habitat, fish, game or wildlife” were included in all three descriptions. In the ones passed in the last minute by the 2009 legislature these words were omitted and in their place was the word “ecosystems.” Nowhere in the amendment did the words “ecosystems” or “biological diversity” appear.

Rep. Brown didn’t really feel that we needed to be worried about the language but assured the group that she would take a hard look at our concerns. The bottom line is that the sportsmen who were there to voice their concerns had reason to be skeptical. The outdoors portion of the lottery money has been slowly chipped away at and Gov. Pawlenty has nixed the bonding bill that would have given $4 million for land acquisition for WMA’s. There is that uneasy feeling that in these times of a huge budget deficit the only place where there is money is the tax dollars designated to the Lessard-Sams bill. Rep. Brown said that the Lessard-Sams bill doesn’t guarantee the purchase of land every year, but that wasn’t what they were concerned about. It was the possibility that with this language the money might be used for things other than game, fish and wildlife habitat.

The general consensus was that any definition of the words enhance, protect and restore need to include the words habitat, fish, game and wildlife.

Another concern was that any land acquired needs to be open to the public for hunting and fishing.

My own opinion of this is that when we voted for this bill we voted for not only sustaining but for bettering our outdoors habitat for the fish, game and wildlife of this state. One scary thought was a proposal in the legislature that the DNR should sell off some land before acquiring more.

Where is the gain in that thought process?

This group of area sportsmen were not there as Democrats or Republicans but as citizens concerned about the future of Minnesota outdoors. They also expressed their appreciation to Rep. Robin Brown for taking the time to listen to their concerns.

If you want to check on this legislation or any bills or business that is going on at the State Legislature or to contact Rep. Brown you can go to:

This past Tuesday the DNR was seining some perch out of Albert Lea Lake to be relocated into Pickerel Lake. The high winds coupled with the remaining ice on the lake made things a little difficult. It looks like they are into the next phase of reclaiming the lake for fishing. This is a positive and a large step towards improving our area watershed and in a few years there should be some good fishing on Pickerel Lake.

Until next time, it’s time to clean out those tackle boxes and always take a little time to enjoy our great Minnesota outdoors.

Remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers throughout the year.