Editorial: Hunters, anglers paying enough

Published 9:17 am Friday, February 24, 2017

Hunters and anglers are an odd bunch.

Think about it. Back in 2012, it was hunters, anglers and their various groups and associations across the state that helped push the Legislature to raise the price of fishing and hunting licenses. Going further back, it was those same hunters, anglers and associations who pushed for dedicated funding for the outdoors, a push that ultimately resulted in the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which raised the state sales tax to raise funds for the arts, parks, trails, watershed projects and yes, fish and wildlife habitat.

So it’s not surprising that, with the state’s Game and Fish Fund poised to go into the red in 2019, Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a budget that would raise the cost of a fishing license from $22 to $25, and raise the deer license fee from $30 to $34. Also in line for price hikes would be state park permits, snowmobile registration fees, boat registration fees and ski passes.

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If history is a good indicator, Dayton can expect at least grudging support from the people who would pay these higher fees. After all, anyone who hunts, camps, fishes or owns a snowmobile knows that the price of a license or permit is a minuscule part of the cost of these activities. (According to the Minnesota DNR, the average angler in Minnesota spends $1,500 per year on this sport.) It’s safe to say that few anglers will hang up their rods because the annual cost goes up by three or four dollars.

But that doesn’t mean Dayton’s proposal is the right way to go.

The Game and Fish Fund should be shored up, as should the Snowmobile Account, the Water Recreation Account, the Invasive Species account and several other DNR funds that are projected to go into the red within the next few years. But we’d argue that with Minnesota still projecting a budget surplus of more than $1 billion, now is not the time to raise fees on people who enjoy the great outdoors in Minnesota.

Our state’s natural resources, including its fish, game and wilderness areas, play a big role in Minnesota’s quality of life. As such, we see no reason that the maintenance and preservation of these resources should have to be funded almost entirely through user fees.

As an example, consider municipal golf courses and swimming pools. Statewide, almost all such facilities lose money, but communities have concluded that access to relatively inexpensive golf and pools is important, especially for kids and seniors.

The Game and Fish Fund, which pays for the DNR’s habitat management and law enforcement systems, already receives 85 percent of its funding from user fees. Any current or projected shortfalls should be covered by additional general fund dollars, not higher fees.

Keep in mind that outdoors activities are one of the state’s biggest economic engines. Fishing alone accounts for more than $2 billion per year in direct retails sales, and more than 35,000 jobs across Minnesota are directly related to the fishing industry. Hunting, snowmobiling, camping, hiking and other outdoors activities not only keep “internal” dollars flowing but also attract hundreds of millions of visitors’ dollars each year.

Finally, consider this: Wisconsin residents who hunt deer, turkeys and pheasants, plus fish for walleyes and trout in their home state, can get all of the necessary licenses and stamps for $76.50. Minnesota residents who want to pursue the same activities here pay a minimum of $111.

In a state that’s flush with cash, that’s enough.

— Rochester Post Bulletin, Feb. 15

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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