Minnesota DNR: We Need a New Way to Fund the Outdoors

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The effort comes as the agency and Minnesota outdoor enthusiasts see traditional means of financing natural resources slowly drying up, as revenues from hunting and fishing license sales decline as the population ages. boomers and inflation eats away at the fees campers pay in state parks. and boaters pay for their licenses.

PREVIOUSLY: As baby boomers stop hunting, will young hunters replace them? The numbers are dark

“Minnesota’s current natural resource financing system cannot sustainably support continued conservation, natural resource management, and outdoor recreation opportunities,” the agency said in announcing the effort.

The DNR push will run through 2022 and now begins with a public awareness campaign to ask Minnesota residents what they want for the outdoors and natural resources in the future, then ask them to think means to pay for it. It can end with some sort of legislative action or even a constitutional amendment placed before the voters.

The goal “is to ensure that MNR can serve new, returning and long-time outdoor enthusiasts, and sustainably manage the state’s natural resources for generations to come.”

“We have seen over the past year or more now how critically important Minnesota’s outdoor recreation and natural resources are to the people of this state,” said Sarah Strommen, MNR Commissioner, to the News Tribune, referring to the scramble for the camp. , boating, fishing and participating in other outdoor activities during the pandemic summers of 2020 and 2021. “We are reaping the benefits of Minnesota’s past investments in the outdoors. But we are not making the same investments now for the future.

Contributed Minnesota DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen / Minnesota DNR

Contributed Minnesota DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen / Minnesota DNR

It is not that the MNR budget is not increasing. That is, going from $ 603 million for 2004-05 to $ 1.3 billion for fiscal years 2022-2023 which just started on July 1. But almost all of this increase comes from dedicated trust funds that are constitutionally tied to specific areas and prohibited from funding. basic MNR operations. New money is great news overall for conservation, but it is troubling for the agency, which often has to manage new projects without additional budgets or staff increases.

MNR’s share of the general state fund for its operating budget – a sum of money that everyone pays through sales and income taxes – has changed little for a decade, from 89 million in 2005 to $ 85 million in 2020 and ultimately increased to $ 103 million for fiscal 2022.

“Almost all of our funding increases (over the past few years) have been for restricted purposes,” said Mary Robison, MNR’s chief financial officer. “These funds are meant to pay for new things, not for basic MNR operations. And it is these basic operations where we have the problem.

Strommen said the rush to get outside also underlined how fragile the system is. User fees for activities like state park camping and fishing and boating licenses have not kept up with inflation, and MNR is repeatedly called upon to do more with less – a smaller staff in the field and a smaller portion of the general state fund in their budget.

In traditional outdoor spaces, the demographics are aging rapidly. As people get older out of business, fewer people are buying permits, and less money is spent on fisheries biology and wildlife management for all species. In 2000, there were 35,994 deer hunters aged 65 or older in the woods of Minnesota. By 2018, senior hunters had nearly doubled to 69,728. The average age of a Minnesota deer hunter in 2000 was 38.78 years. In 2018, it had jumped to 41.77. In 2012, Minnesota sold 521,951 deer hunting licenses. In 2019, that number fell to 462,095, down almost 12% in just seven years. (Even amid the pandemic rush to get out, 2020 deer license sales were flat from 2019.)

“The question is, are we happy to continually try to keep what we had two years ago? Or do the Minnesotans want more? said Strommen. “We are struggling to stand still. “

Strommen said the agency needs to keep user fees keeping pace with inflation, reflecting the true value of experiences like camping in state parks. But she said the state also needs to make sure these outdoor experiences remain open and accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial situation. It doesn’t make sense, she said, that the state has an extensive state park system if many residents can’t afford to pay for state park stickers or camping fees.

Once Minnesota residents share their vision for the state’s future of the outdoors, the agency will seek ideas for equitable and sustainable sources of funding. The MNR budget cannot count on “paying” activities like hunting which peaked years ago. The state must account for activities in which the Minnesotans are now engaging but which have not been linked to external funding. People use the outdoors differently, and in ways that often haven’t helped foot the bill – like electric car owners don’t pay taxes on gasoline but still drive on roads where the taxes are charged. on gasoline pay.

While everyone enjoys the outdoors and the state’s vibrant natural resources – hikers who see eagles, cyclists who use the trails, bird watchers who seek out wildlife management areas for birding – it there is a growing feeling that maybe everyone should help pay. It could mean some kind of passport, license or conservation stamp. Or it could mean that more of the DNR budget comes from the general state fund to which everyone contributes. And maybe that means entirely new sources of funding that no one has yet identified.

Strommen said she is confident the Minnesotans will come up with their best ideas for the future of the state’s outdoor activities and groundbreaking ideas on how to pay for them. After all, she noted, the Minnesotans have shown support for the environment and the outside through the constitutionally dedicated Environmental Trust Fund – the state’s share of the lottery profits. – and with broad public support for the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment. It’s the one where the Minnesotans vetoed to increase their own sales tax with the extra money for clean water, conservation, outdoor recreation, and natural resources.

“We don’t want to build a model that finances the past,” Strommen said. “We want to build a model for the Minnesota outdoors in the future. “

To be involved

The Minnesota DNR would like your help in establishing a new approach to funding outdoor conservation and recreation. First, the agency wants to know “your experiences in the natural places you love, your expectations for the future management of Minnesota’s resources, and your ideas for supporting conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities for generations to come.” to come “.

The DNR has stated that all Minnesotans have the right and deserve:

  • A wide variety of outdoor recreation and nature experiences.

  • Equitable access to land and public resources.

  • Healthy, diversified and flourishing natural resources.

  • Benefits from functioning ecosystems, including clean water and air, regardless of direct use.

The DNR this week unveiled its new website to engage the public at engage.dnr.state.mn.us/reinvesting-in-minnesotas-outdoors

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