Efforts come as the agency and Minnesota outdoor enthusiasts watch traditional means of funding natural resources dry up as hunting and fishing license sales decline with an aging baby boomer population, and fees for inflation decline State park campers eat up and boaters pay for their licenses.
BEFORE: Will younger hunters replace them when the baby boomers leave the hunt behind? The numbers are grim
“Minnesota’s current system of funding natural resources cannot sustainably support the continued conservation, management of natural resources and outdoor recreation,” the agency said when it announced the effort.
The DNR push will run until 2022 and will now begin a public campaign to ask Minnesotans what they want in nature and natural resources in the future, and then urge them to find ways to pay for it. It can end in some kind of legislative action or even a constitutional amendment that is put before the electorate.
The goal “is to ensure that the DNR can serve new, returning, long-time outdoor enthusiasts and sustainably manage the state’s natural resources for future generations”.
“We have seen in the past year or now the importance of Minnesota’s outdoor recreational activities and natural resources to the people of this state,” Sarah Strommen, DNR commissioner, told the News Tribune, referring to the rush to camp, boat drive, fish and participate in other outdoor activities during the 2020 and 2021 pandemic summers. “We are enjoying the benefits of Minnesota’s past investments in nature. But we’re not making these investments now for the future. “
Minnesota DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen contributed / Minnesota DNR
It’s not that the DNR’s budget isn’t getting bigger. It’s a jump from $ 603 million for 2004-05 to $ 1.3 billion for fiscal years 2022-23 that just started on July 1st. But almost all of the increase came from dedicated trust funds that are constitutionally bound and excluded from funding core DNR operations. Overall, the new money is great news for conservation, but it is worrying for the agency, which often has to manage the new projects without additional budget or staff increases.
The DNR’s general state fund’s share of its operating budget – a pot of money into which everyone pays through sales and income taxes – moved little for a decade, from $ 89 million in 2005 to $ 85 million in 2020 and Eventually rose to $ 103 million for fiscal 2022.
“Almost all of our fund increases (in recent years) have been for limited purposes,” said Mary Robison, DNR’s chief financial officer. “These funds are intended to pay for new things, not core DNR operations. And in these core businesses we have the problem. “
Strommen said the rush to go outside also underscored how fragile the system is. Fees for activities like camping in the state park and fishing and boating licenses have not kept pace with inflation, and DNR is repeatedly urged to do more with less – fewer on-site staff and a smaller portion of the SWF in its budget.
The population is aging rapidly in traditional outdoor areas. As people age from the activities, fewer people buy licenses and less money goes into fisheries biology and wildlife management for all species. In 2000, there were 35,994 deer hunters aged 65 years or older in the Minnesota forests. By 2018, the senior hunters had almost doubled to 69,728. The median age of a deer hunter in Minnesota in 2000 was 38.78 years. By 2018 it had risen to 41.77. In 2012, Minnesota sold 521,951 deer hunting licenses. By 2019 this had dropped to 462,095, a decrease of almost 12% in just seven years. (Even amid the pandemic onslaught to go outside, deer license sales in 2020 were unchanged from 2019.)
“The question is, are we happy to keep trying to stick with what we had two years ago? Or do the Minnesotans want more? ”Said Strommen. “We have trouble treading water.”
Strommen said the agency needs user fees to keep pace with inflation, reflecting the real value of experiences like camping in the state park. However, she said the state must also ensure that these outdoor experiences remain open and accessible to all, regardless of their financial status. It doesn’t make sense for the state to have an extensive state park system when many residents can’t afford to pay for state park stickers or camping fees.
After the Minnesotans share their vision of the future of the state outdoors, the agency will look for ideas for fair and sustainable sources of funding. The DNR budget cannot count on “pay-to-play” activities like hunting, which peaked years ago. The state must be accountable for activities that Minnesotans now participate in but that are not tied to outdoor funding. People use nature differently, in ways that often didn’t help pay the bills – for example, electric car owners not paying gas tax but still driving on the roads that pay the gas tax.
When everyone benefits from the state’s vibrant wildlife and natural resources – hikers seeing eagles, bikers using trails, bird watchers looking for wildlife management areas to spot birds – a feeling grows that maybe everyone should help. That could mean some type of conservation pass, license, or stamp. Or it could mean that more of the DNR’s budget comes from the state’s general fund, which everyone pays into. And maybe it means entirely new sources of funding that no one has identified yet.
Strommen said she was confident the Minnesotans will push through their best ideas for the future of the nature of the state and some groundbreaking ideas on how to pay for them. After all, she noted, Minnesotans have shown their support for the environment and nature through the constitutionally dedicated environmental trust fund – the state’s share of lottery winnings – and with broad public support for the clean water, land and legacy change. That’s where the Minnesotans vetoed to collect their own sales tax, with the extra money used for clean water, conservation, outdoor recreation, and natural resources.
“We don’t want to build a model that finances the past,” said Strommen. “We want to build a model for Minnesota’s outdoor in the future.”
The Minnesota DNR would like your help in establishing a new approach to funding conservation and outdoor recreation. First, the agency would like to hear “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 for generations to come.”
The DNR has stated that all Minnesotans have and deserve a right:
Diverse leisure and nature experiences outdoors.
Equal access to public land and resources.
Healthy, diverse and thriving natural resources.
Benefit from functional ecosystems – including clean water and clean air – regardless of their direct use.
The DNR launched its new website this week to engage the public at dnr.state.mn.us/reinvesting-in-minnesotas-outdoors