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Getting 'hooked' on hunting, fishing at a young age: Bill would help schools add outdoors-based curriculum

BEMIDJI—A pair of Bemidji-area lawmakers want to help K-12 schools include more outdoorsy activities in their physical education classes.

Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, and Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, are authors of bills in the Minnesota Senate and House, respectively, that would direct the state's Department of Natural Resources commissioner to create a grant program to increase firearms safety, archery, hunting and angling activities in physical education courses in Minnesota school districts.

The commissioner would receive from the state $500,000 next year and the year after that to develop curriculum, train staff, pay for participants' sports licenses and more.

Eichorn on Wednesday told members of the Senate's E-12 Finance and Policy Committee that he hopes students get "hooked" on outdoor sports if they get their first hunting or fishing license for free from the program. (He apologized for the pun.)

"With our technology nowadays, our phones, we're unfortunately losing future generations of folks that'll care about conservation in our state, and care about hunting in our state, to our electronic devices," Eichorn said as he held up a cell phone. "And we're trying to help find ways to bend that curve."

The legislation—SF 793 in the Senate and HF 1877 in the House—would require the commissioner to consult with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Red Lake Nation, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and other American Indian communities in Minnesota. That, Eichorn said, is because the bill's authors imagine students will learn about the "culture and heritage" of hunting alongside safety measures.

"We feel that the tribal heritage is also very important, and that's why we asked them to contract with the tribes," he said.

Leech Lake leaders said they support the bill.

"We believe that teaching the people of this state the art of hunting and angling from a young age will encourage more participation in these activities in a way that will ensure sustainable practices continue to be utilized," Faron Jackson, Sr., Leech Lake's chairman, wrote to Eichorn in a March 26 letter. "We are thankful for the forward-thinking espoused in this bill and are hopeful the Minnesota legislature will pass this measure into law."

Both bills specify that the grant program they'd establish would add outdoorsy programming to phy-ed classes, but a staff member at Eichorn's office said it's intended to expand a sort-of pilot program that weaves them into several disciplines at Northland Community Schools, a relatively small school district based in Remer, Minn.

There, sixth-grade teacher Kevin Murphy and some volunteers have been teaching students in that grade about firearm, snowmobile, ATV, boat and water safety. They also run a "Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs" program. Each safety course uses materials provided by the DNR, Murphy testified Wednesday.

"Depending on that content, we use it either during our reading time because there is a lot of good reading curriculum that the DNR has, and we also do some of it during our science and social studies times," he said.

Murphy pointed to several Minnesota academic standards he said are taught by the school's firearm safety class, including the establishment of rights over time and how laws are created The same, he indicated, is true for science marks, including identifying and evaluating the impact of a common engineering system on the daily life of humans and describing a system via its subsystems and parts. He said the curriculum also covers some physical education standards, but didn't know which ones, specifically, because the school's phy-ed teacher takes care of them in that class.

The only difference between the House and Senate versions of the legislation is that the latter includes trap shooting. The Senate version was heard and amended by that body's Environmental and Natural Resources Finance Committee earlier this month. The House version has yet to be heard by the Education Policy Committee, to which it was first referred in late February.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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