The 2019 Minnesota legislative session ended with a budget agreement between the divided Republican (Senate) and Democratic (House and governor) government but mixed news for outdoor enthusiasts.
Perhaps the biggest win was new money to battle chronic wasting disease, the always fatal deer disease that is spreading in Minnesota's wild deer herd and in captive deer farms.
Lawmakers approved, and Gov. Tim Walz signed, legislation aiming $1.87 million from the state's general tax fund to fight CWD along with another $2.85 million from the state's Game and Fish Fund that's stocked with license fee revenue.
The Department of Natural Resources had sought the entire amount from the General Fund hoping to spread the cost among all residents and not just hunters. But Bob Meier, the DNR's legislative liaison, said late budget negotiations cut that General Fund total back. The money will go toward monitoring, surveillance, testing and — where needed — culling CWD-infected deer in the wild. The DNR had been paying for those efforts with money from other areas.
“It was badly needed because that money had been coming out of other programs” within the DNR, Meier said.
CWD is now spreading among wild deer in southeastern Minnesota and has spread around a badly infected deer farm near Brainerd, MInn., to wild deer in that area as well.
The new legislation also requires owners of deer farms to “depopulate”' their herd immediately after CWD is found on their property. In the past, the choice to depopulate was up to the farm owner.
Other new laws - which go into effect Aug. 1 — call for increased high-tensile fencing and double gates at deer farms and a provision for deer farms to lose their licenses if captive deer are confirmed to have escaped the property. The Legislature also authorized more money for inspections of farms and more money to the University of Minnesota to find a new CWD test that can be done faster and cheaper and, hopefully, one that can be used on live animals. Currently, only dead animals can be tested.
In other outdoors relate legislative news, lawmakers:
Made NO changes to state policy on wolf hunting. If the animal indeed comes off federal endangered status, which remains uncertain, wolf management would revert to the DNR, which is likely to resume wolf hunting and trapping seasons based on existing statutes. Wolf supporters had hoped for a ban on sport wolf hunting.
Authorized $175,000 for a new statewide ice safety program, through the DNR, to remind people that traveling on frozen waters is never completely safe. The move comes as ice fishing surges in popularity and as more incidents occur with people breaking through thin ice.
Did NOT approve allowing two fishing lines for all state waters. Current laws on fishing lines — generally one line for most waters for open water fishing — will continue.
Did NOT approve language allowing an all-terrain vehicle campground across U.S. Highway 169 from the new Lake Vermilion State Park campground. The drive-in ATV-access campground, long in the plans for the new state park, still needs a change in state park regulations to allow ATV use, as well as funding to build the new campground.
Continued funding for the Hill Annex Mine State Park near Hibbing to continue operations.
Authorized an increase in the boat licenses surcharge for aquatic invasive species from $5 to $10.60. (The license fee is paid every three years.) The extra money, about $1.76 million annually, will go to the DNR to prevent the spread of invasive species to new waterways. (The Legislature also continued funding its grant program to counties for invasive species prevention.)
Approved general budget increases for state agencies such as the DNR to cover increased labor, insurance and other inflationary costs. Without the increase, the DNR has threatened it may need to close many services at several state parks, including several campgrounds.