Fewer hunters and fishermen mean less money for outdoor programs – WCCO

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DULUTH, Minnesota (AP) – Last month, Bob Walker walked into an expanse of woodland southeast of Rochester, Minnesota with his son, hoping this year would be his last deer hunt.

He is 80 years old and he was ready to retire from the hunt, but not until he had slaughtered one last deer.

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“I was like, ‘I’m going to stick with it until I get one and come out on a high note,” Walker said.

Walker is in good health – he walks several kilometers every day. But he said it was getting harder and harder for him to walk in the woods. He tripped and fell when he set up his hunting blind this year.

In the past two years, he has not seen any deer he wanted to kill. But this fall, we walked past his blind. He shot and the deer fell.

“We kind of hooted and screamed a little bit and hugged each other,” Walker recalls. “And it was a very good day for me.”

Walker has been hunting for over 60 years, first with his father and uncle, then his brother, then his son.

He shot his first deer at the age of 14, in the same wood along the Root River where he killed his last deer.

Now that he’s ready to put his shotgun away, Walker has said he would like to pass his gear on to his four grandsons and teach them how to hunt.

“But the older two, they have no interest in hunting anything,” he said, adding that the younger two could still change their mind.

What is happening within the Walker family illustrates a problem that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is facing: As more fishermen and hunters stop fishing and hunting, there are fewer people to pick them up. replace, reported the Minnesota Public Radio News.

This is a big problem because for decades the state has relied on licensing and registration fees and taxes on equipment to finance a significant part of the conservation and management of its natural resources.

The DNR is therefore asking for help. He wants Minnesotans to look at how best to fund outdoor recreation and conservation.

“The time has really come. We haven’t seen… fundamental investments in Minnesota’s conservation and outdoor recreation systems in a generation or more, ”said MNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen.

Much of the state’s outdoor infrastructure, from state parks to fish hatcheries, was built in the 1950s and 1960s, Strommen said. Some of them date back to the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

“So it’s really time, I think, for us to think about how we revitalize this system, how we can invest in this system,” Strommen said, “so that it not only serves today’s users. hui, but users in the future. “

Strommen said the work is especially important now because people have turned to the outdoors in unprecedented numbers during the pandemic for outdoor recreation and mental health.

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One option, said Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, is to generate income from some of the new ways people engage in the outdoors, such as mountain biking, rock climbing or watching. birds.

“There is an excise tax on your fishing rod. There’s an excise tax on a shotgun, on all of those things that hunters and fishermen do in their hobby, ”Engwall said. “It finances the management of the resource. And there are a lot of activities that are developing, and which are great, which do not have the same element of tax on them.

Voters in Texas have chosen to do something similar. They approved a measure two years ago that allocates the proceeds of state sales tax on sporting goods to fund national parks and wildlife.

The challenge is to make sure that the increased fees don’t discourage people from using the outdoors.

“If you charge too much, or if you charge in the wrong place, you can create a financial barrier for some people,” Strommen said.

Another option, which would require legislative approval, is to increase the amount of funding that MNR receives from the general state fund.

Although the agency’s overall budget has increased significantly in recent years, this is largely due to funds that do not cover the core MNR budget.

The current MNR general fund budget allocation of approximately $ 104 million is significantly lower than what the agency received in 2000, when general fund allocations peaked at nearly $ 126 million.

Meanwhile, the agency faces several critical natural resource issues, from invasive species and climate change to chronic wasting disease.

Dave Zentner, former national president of the Izaak Walton League conservation group, said he supports more funding for MNR.

Zentner said the process to determine this new funding model must also answer critical questions.

“What will be the results for the citizens and resources of Minnesota?” What are we going to get to invest more in the agency? ” He asked.

Zentner is one of a small group that advises the DNR on its efforts. Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, who recently served on the state’s Outdoor Recreation Task Force, also advises the agency. She said a new funding model must serve all Minnesotans.

“The population of our state, growing communities, comes from Black, Indigenous and other communities of color,” she said.

“So if we think we’re going to have a system that is going to be successful, we have to make sure that what we’re doing is inclusive of these people and their needs,” Atlas-Ingebretson said.

To this end, the DNR seeks the assistance of the public in identifying a vision for outdoor recreation and conservation in Minnesota. In the second half of 2022, the agency said it would come up with a way to fund this vision in the future.

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