Outdoor champion Carrie Ruud leaves the Senate

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Republican State Senator Carrie Ruud is an accomplished hunter, angler, kayaker, snowshoe runner, cyclist, hiker, in-line skater and runner.

Appointed three times to chair the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Senate Finance, she has championed outdoor causes ranging from walleyes and whitetails to parks and trails. She fought the Department of Natural Resources on some issues, but supported the agency on others. Within her own caucus, she defends her ideals even when they do not conform to the establishment.

In an interview with the Star Tribune, the Breezy Point ‘common sense curator’ explained the bitter politics of her departure at the end of her term. She also reflected on some of her conservation successes, the governors she’s worked with, what’s stopping the state from cracking down on chronic wasting disease, and what it was like crawling to have the privilege of completing this year’s $159 million outdoor heritage bill. Ruud’s responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why did you drop out of your re-election bid?

A: My district boundaries changed and I was paired with fellow Republican Senator Justin Eichorn of Grand Rapids. We both wanted the seat. I didn’t want to leave the Senate, but the party backed him for the upcoming 2022 election. Several other women in the Senate are also leaving after being matched in the same district against a male lawmaker from the same party. It may not be a coincidence and it seems odd to me…but we’ve backed off in Minnesota. (Ruud is the former president of the National Foundation for Women Legislators).

Q: Who in 2023 will lead the Senate on environmental and natural resources issues?

A: I see a very big void. (Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria, who chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, will also be gone, heading for retirement.) It’s unclear who would want my committee, and I don’t think Republicans should take it for granted that we will retain the majority. The culture in the Senate does not encourage me to stay. It is a culture that is not very favorable to environmental issues. Priorities have changed. My workspace has become really small. No one in management talks enough about the environment. No one asks: how can we improve the exterior? This year, lawmakers amended the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund Bill to replace projects that were not approved. This conversation needs to change. That’s a lot of pork for people’s quarters and they need to stop that.

Q: In 2018, you were honored by Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails as Legislator of the Year. What is your favorite achievement in this field?

A: When I was mayor of Breezy Point, a group of us took a bus to Miner’s Mountain near Crosby and we brainstormed. We now have the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, with miles and miles of bike paths, including a brand new trail suitable for disabled cyclists. It’s so amazing. I rank it up there with my participation in the Lessard-Sams outdoor heritage legislation. He revitalized the Crosby-Ironton community where 28 new businesses opened, including a large grocery store. I can’t take credit for myself, but I’m so honored to be part of the collaboration between the state, county, and Iron Range partners.

Q: What other works highlight your legislative career?

A: Protect the integrity of the Legacy Amendment and the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council grantmaking process. That’s what makes me most proud. At first, everyone wanted their little projects. But we did what was best for Minnesota vs. I Need Pork for My District. It is important to follow the recommendations of the Outdoor Heritage Council, as they review grant applications throughout the year. By the time the recommendations come to my committee, they have been really considered. I saw the Legacy bill from this year until the end. It will provide $159 million for outdoor conservation and restoration projects in 2023, as recommended by the council.

Other highlights were working with former state senator Gen. Olson of the Twin Cities to introduce the first aquatic invasive species bill. Funding from the Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center of Minnesota. Directing Grant Funding to Help Start High School Trap Shooting. Create and redesign a program to resolve the conflict between herders and predatory wolves in herds. The introduction of “flaming pink” as a safety clothing option for deer hunters. The increase in hunting and fishing license fees requested by the MRN. Increased penalties for trespassing by snowmobilers. Fish bait dealers import golden minnows from Arkansas. MNR has blocked it, but is currently researching ways to boost minnow production in the state. Regular funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts to keep land and water projects alive in every Minnesota county.

Q: Much of your legislative work has been suspended this year. What happened?

A: I lobbied to lower the statewide walleye bag limit from six to four — something my caucus voted in favor of four or five times. But I was unable to get a hearing for the bill in the State Government Committee. I repeated my request for a hearing every day. I finally let it be known that I was stuck – that a bill to create a state fossil was getting more attention than a bill to protect the state’s fish.

The party leaders did not regard my behavior as appropriate. They also did not endorse my position to take action to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer. We have to do something, but we have a group in our caucus that denies chronic wasting disease is a problem.

I also ticked off party leaders fighting for the full return of the “prize lottery” monies earned in 2000 for hunting, fishing, parks and trails. My bill would have fully restored the dedicated account, and I opposed a Republican-led attempt to take $1 million from the fund and give it to a major sports group.

None of this pleased the leaders and I had to grovel, apologize, for the privilege of guiding the Lessard-Sams bill through to passage. I could not not stay with this incredible bill.

Q: Three different governors were in power while you were on Capitol Hill. Who did you prefer for the sake of the outdoors?

A: Mark Dayton. He was so approachable. I had his cell phone number. I could leave him a message if I had a problem or needed help. I remember seeing him take a verbal beating during a public appearance he made in Milaca when people were angry about the Mille Lacs walleye situation. He stayed there and listened and didn’t get angry. He would talk to people and from that day on I gained a lot of respect for him.

He realized that we had to change our agricultural policies in the interests of the environment. Thinking back to his drinking water buffer strip initiative, I think it made a difference.

Governor Pawlenty encouraged the use of the environment. He started the tradition of Governor’s Stag Ushers. It also deserves credit for adding a state park on Lake Vermilion.

I don’t think the current governor has paid much attention to the environment.

Q: What is the next step for you after completing your term?

A: I know I will fail in retirement. When I do, I’m going to kind of follow my passion in the environment.

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