ST. PAUL - It is not something heard much around the Legislature: people suggesting fees they pay go up.
But Minnesota anglers and hunters did just that Tuesday and the Senate natural resources committees complied, backing a bill that ups fees to replenish a fund running out of money and help fight invasive species. It was the first of many House and Senate votes on the topic.
Legendary Minnesota Vikings Coach Bud Grant, 85, joined dozens of hunting, fishing and environmental supporting the license fee increases.
"I'm here to promote something more important than a stadium," Grant said to the delight of committee members. "I'm here to promote a tax increase for hunting and fishing."
Grant said he has hunted in many states and Minnesota charges too little. "This is the greatest bargain the state offers its citizens."
However, the avid outdoorsman added, "we can't exist at this level."
He said the bill written by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, that would raise an annual Minnesota fishing license to $22 does not go far enough. He said even Gov. Mark Dayton's $24 proposal is too cheap, saying he thinks an annual license should cost $30.
The issue brought together a broad coalition of groups that want to raise fees because the state game and fish fund is running low at a time when more money is needed to fight invasive species such as Asian carp and zebra mussels.
No one spoke against the proposal.
President Lance Ness of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative Alliance said funds are needed to maintain good hunting and fishing habitat.
"We love them to death," he said about fishing spots ranging from Lake Superior to ponds known as potholes.
Some testifiers asked for even more fee increases, including doing what Dayton proposals in raising boat fees. Ingebrigtsen said that putting higher boat fees on top of hunting and fishing increases would be too big of a boost this year, but he promised to consider it in the future.
The Senate committee bill would raise $11 million for the game and fish fund, $3 million less than a plan Dayton released Monday.
"We think that is going to be more than adequate," Ingebrigtsen said.
The Senate bill would raise the annual adult Minnesota fishing license cost from $17 to $22, with most other hunting and fishing-related fees also rising. Deer hunting licenses would rise from $26 to $30.
Hunting and fishing license fees have not gone up for a dozen years. About 1.5 million people buy fishing licenses and 600,000 buy hunting licenses each year.
License revenues are a key source for funding management of 5,400 fishing lakes and managing hunting habitat.
Deputy Commissioner Dave Shad of the Department of Natural Resources said that without more funds, some hunting and fishing-related programs will experience cuts or be eliminated.
"We have done a lot of belt tightening," added the DNR's Ed Boggess, such as buying more efficient vehicles and driving fewer miles.
Part of the reason for an urgency to raise fees this year dates to last year's budget impasse, which caused a government shutdown that stopped the sale of fishing licenses. That cost the state game and fish fund $2.2 million.
Late last year, budget officials revised projections for license fee collections, expecting it to go down $1.1 million and federal funds that were to go to the fund dropping $4.3 million.
Hunting and fishing industries contribute $3.6 billion to the economy each year, President Don McMillan of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance said.
Boggess said Minnesota is the country's fifth favorite fishing destination, behind four coastal states.
"With the state under attack from all kinds of aquatic invasive species, including Asian carp and zebra mussels, we need to beef up our natural resources army at DNR to deal with these new problems," Ness said.