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Ducks, Wetlands, and Clean Water Rally
Legislative Update
Gary Botzek, Minnesota Conservation Federation

Welcome to the April 2, 2005 Ducks, Wetlands, and Clean Water Rally!

Since you are there, we know you care!

Conversationalists and environmentalists can get things done legislatively if they work together. That is what this rally is all about-working together to get public policy and funding levels that reflect the needs and the desires of the Outdoor Community. Whether you hunt or fish, bike or boat, swim or hike, bird watch, or sell tackle, you are part of our Great Minnesota Outdoors Heritage and Experience! We need your help if we are to be successful at the State Capitol in 2005 and into the future!

The following is a summary of some of the bigger conservation and environmental issues being debated at the State Capitol:

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program: Called CREP II, this state-federal conservation would restore 120,000 of acres of wetlands and grasslands in three targeted regions of the state. Both the House and the Senate bonding bills include $23 million for this effort. Thank legislators for voting for this program and urge them to finish the bonding bill soon!

Wildlife Management Areas: This same bonding pass contains money for Wildlife Management Areas. The House bill contains $12 million, while the Senate bill calls for only $10 million. Urge legislators to support the higher number--$12 million. This investment will allow DNR to purchase around 8,500 additional WMA acres. In recent bonding conference committee meetings and offers the $10-$12 million in WMA dollars has been reduced to $5-$7.5 million. This is unacceptable!!!! Urge your legislator to talk to the leadership in both the House and the Senate and tell them that we expect to see $10-$12 million in the final bonding bill!!!!

Clean Water Legacy: Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 lakes and miles and miles of streams and rivers. We boat, fish, swim, drink, irrigate, and do just about everything else in or around our waters! Problem is we have abused our waters. It is high time to clean them, restore them, and protect the waters of our state that are not yet contaminated. Cleaning up our waters is critical to business and economic development, as well as, our Quality of Life. That is why conversationalists, environmentalists, farmers, local governments, and businesses are supporting HF 826-Rep. Ozment and SF 762-Sen. Frederickson. This proposal would begin the clean up of contaminated lakes and streams in the state in accordance with the Clean Water Act. Needed new revenue would be generated by an annual $36 fee from each house. In addition businesses would also pay based on the amount of water they use. This estimated $80 million per year would fuel a locally delivered multi-function cleanup efforts through septic inspection and upgrades, upgrades to waste water treatment plants, as well as, the buffering and retirement of additional farm land in water sensitive areas. This legislation has had a number of hearings, discussion, debate, amendments, and will need the help of all rally participates to get it passed and signed by the Governor.

Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources Reform & Restructuring: The Governor has proposed that the LCMR be restructured to better target the lottery dollars spending to natural resources, including hunting, fishing, parks, and trails. HF 1467-Hackbarth received a hearing this week and was passed to its next committee-the Governmental Operations Committee. The bill would create a new "Minnesota Conservation Heritage Foundation," which would serve as the bank account for this new LCMR citizen-based commission. The 11 members of the commission would be selected by the Governor and approved by the Senate. Senator Chaudhary has agreed to carry the Senate version of the bill. This year's LCMR bill is $34 million and that number is expected to increase in future years.

Dedication of Funds to Conservation & Environment: Since 1976 Missouri has "dedicated" 1/8 of one cent of their sales tax to conservation programs and projects. For years the conservation community has been trying to build support in the Legislature for a similar dedication of general funds to habitat and conservation programs. Former Senator Bob Lessard championed this legislative approach for years. The leadership has changed, but the interest remains strong! HF 1909-Hackbarth calls for a constitutional amendment that would commit _ of one cent of the current sales tax to be dedicated to natural resources. The bill would raise $176 million per year with one-half of the annual revenue going to fish and wildlife activities and the other one-half going to a statewide clean water cleanup program as mandated by the federal government. HF 1909 passed its first committee last week and was sent to House Government Operations Committee. Senator Saxhaug's SF 1721 is the senate version of this bill. Rally attendees are encouraged to wade in on this issue in order to get this issue to the voters in November of 2006.

Increased and Tougher Enforcement of OHV's:
SF 720-Marty, a bill that would have toughened enforcement and penalties on OHV misuse, was defeated in his own committee! The bill called for increased enforcement by the state and local law enforcement, as well as, increased fines and forfeiture of OHV's used in illegal activities, especially in the destruction of wetlands and other water bodies. Hearings may be heard on other OHV bills in Marty's committee, or the full Senate could act on the matter through amendments on the floor to two other OHV bills that were passed out of Marty's committee. Rep. Hackbarth's HF 1547, a bill that promotes an ambassador type mentoring type effort to educate and enforce the "bad apple" riders passed its first committee and was referred to Government Operations Committee.

Shooting Range/Preserve Protection:
HF 2006-Hackbarth, legislation that would provide stronger protection of shooting ranges and shooting preserves, received its first hearing last week and was passed to Government Operations Committee. Senator Chaudhary will be introducing the senate version of the bill. Representatives of ranges, conservation organizations, and local government have worked hard to write a bill that would provide stronger protection of ranges and preserves, as well as, strengthen the working relationship between local government and ranges/preserves. We remain hopeful that we can shepherd the bill through a number of committees in a short period of time and still put meaningful legislation on the books this session.

Drainage Buffers:
HF 1019-Rep Hanson and SF 876-Senator Hottinger-legislation that would clarify current drainage law (MS 103E) to extend the grass buffer zone required for drainage ditches. The bill would modify the law to make it clear that the one rod (16 and _ feet) permanent grass strip would be measured from the crown of the leveled spoil bank away from the ditch slope. This change would make it clear that grasses must be planted on the banks and the back slope of the ditch to prevent erosion. These changes would apply to new or improved ditches only. This grass buffer provides food, water, and cover for ducks, birds, and other animals and fowl. The bill has passed one committee in the House, with hearings scheduled in both the House and Senate this week!

Aquaculture/Minnow Raising Permits:
HF 1819-Waganius would change the DNR permitting authority regarding the raising of sucker minnows and other fish species in wetlands and shallow lakes. Permit holders of these five year licenses currently only have to have an access to the shallow wetland or lake. This legislation would require that all land owners around the wetland or lake grant permit to use that water body for minnow rearing. In addition, the permit holder would have to present and maintain a management plan that addresses the ecological value of the licensed water body. If the plan is not followed, the permit would not be renewed. It is in these wetlands and shallow lakes where ducks and fish fight over macro invertebrates for food. It appears the ducks are losing!

This growing list of pending legislative issues will have a tremendous impact on the future of ducks, wetlands, and clean water in this state. We urge you to contact your local senator and house member and urge them to support these very important issues.

The Duck Rally is just the start of the conservation community working together to promote and enhance the Great Outdoors and set public policy and funding levels that provide adequate and reasonable treatment of our natural resources. Minnesotans love the Great Outdoors! We need to protect it and defend it!

Posted March 28, 2005-to be updated weekly.
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