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Democrats pitch fishing, boating fee hikes

The Minnesota DNR seeks license fee increases to pay for the ongoing upkeep of parks, lakes, trails and hatcheries.

ST PAUL, Minn. — It may soon cost you more to go fishing and boating and to visit state parks in Minnesota.

State lawmakers are considering a request from the Dept. of Natural Resources, or DNR, to place license fee hikes in that agency's budget bill. It would pay for the ongoing upkeep of outdoor facilities such as parks, trails and lakes as well as DNR fish hatcheries that are used to stock lakes.

"There are millions and millions of dollars in General Fund infrastructure needs within our system these fee increases will support," DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meyer told a House panel Tuesday.

"For example, there’s $35 million for a fishing hatchery that will be supported by a modest $5 fishing license fee increase, to continue to provide staffing for lake surveys, creel census work to ensure the fish we’re growing to put in those lakes will survey and meet the need there."

The license fee hikes are contained in the DNR's budget bill, which cleared the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday. Rep. Rick Hansen, a South St. Paul Democrat, is the lead author of the bill.

"This budget area has a lot of dedicated dollars, and these user fees are used to provide services in those accounts," Rep. Hansen told House colleagues.

"The Governor's budget and the agencies made the case for these fees not only in the short term but in the long term."

He pointed out that the bill has funding to support the DNR's efforts around Chronic Wasting Disease in deer, invasive aquatic species, PFAS testing and abatement, environmental justice, and the Metropolitan Landfill Contingency Trust Fund that pays for closing and cleaning old dumps.

The proposed hikes, which would take effect after July 1, include:

  • Bumping the Minn. resident fishing license from $25 to $30
  • Raising the aquatic invasive species surcharge from $10 to $20
  • Increase boat registration fees, which are good for 3 years, by 78% to 143% depending on the size of the boat
  • Hiking state park daily fees from $7 to $10
  • Boosting state park season passes from $35 to $45

The DNR is in line to get part of the state's record $17 billion surplus to pay for long overdue repairs, but that's considered one-time money. The fee hikes are designed to pay for ongoing maintenance and area where the agency continues to play a game of catchup.

Those fee increases are currently not part of the Senate's version of the DNR bill. Sen. Grant Hauschild, a Hermantown Democrat, said it's not a good time to raise fees on outdoor activities.

"Minnesotans should be able to enjoy the great outdoors without facing financial barriers, which is why I opposed any and all fee increases to DNR recreation fees this session,” read a statement issued by Sen. Hauschild.

"Everyone has the right to enjoy the abundance of nature the Northland provides, but fee increases would get in the way. Instead, I am proud of the Senate Environment Omnibus that funds my priorities for outdoor recreation utilizing the state surplus."

If the House and Senate bills both pass in their current forms, the fee issue would come down to negotiations between House Democrats and Senate Democrats.

Gov. Walz, who bought his fishing and wild turkey licenses at the DNR offices Tuesday, supports the hikes in user fees as part of the state's pay-as-you-go tradition for outdoor amenities.

"The North American model of conservation is that the people who do it pay for it," Walz told KARE.

"When we buy our licenses, the fees go into maintaining North American conservation, which is world-renowned. In Minnesota, we have a lot of lakes, a lot of upkeep."


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