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Increased outdoors fees in Minnesota needed, Landwehr says

A 2005 file photo taken in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Courtesy of Jay Helmick of Harwood, N.D. / Forum News Service

BEMIDJI, Minn.-- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr is making rounds across the state to discuss potential fee increases for various agency needs.

"As we look at inflation, we have to look at fee increases," Landwehr said Wednesday, April 5, while visiting Bemidji. "Fees make up 85 percent of the department's budget and increases to those fees are set in statute and can only be done by the Legislature."

According to Landwehr, the department increases its fees to meet inflation levels on a six year basis. The latest proposed increases, put forward by Gov. Mark Dayton, includes fee increases for hunting and fishing, state park usage, trail usage, recreation and natural resources protections.

They are as follows:

• A $3 increase, from $22 to $25, for annual angling licenses for residents. Nonresidents would see an increase of $6, from $45 to $51.

• An increase from $30 to $34 for resident deer hunting licenses. For nonresidents, the increase is $165 to $185.

• A $1 increase for daily park permit fees, from $5 to $6 per day. Annual permit increases, meanwhile, would rise $5, from $25 to $30.

• Three year registration fees would increase $10 per year, from $75 to $105. Three year registration fees for ATVs, meanwhile, would increase $5 per year, from $45 to $60.

• Three year boat registration fees would increase in a range from $2 to $60, depending on the length of the watercraft. As an example, a 17-19 foot watercraft would see an increase of $18.

• State daily ski passes would increase by $2, from $5 to $7.

• Water surcharge fees would increase from $5 to $12 to fight aquatic invasive species and support research for long term control methods. This was last increased in 1993, from $2 to $5.

Dayton's proposals for the DNR, according to a press release, also include directing money from the general fund:

• For state parks, trails and recreation, $9.3 million.

• For filling 21 empty conservation officer stations across the state, $5.5 million.

• To restore state lands, $2.5 million.

• To replace the agency's forestry data system, $4 million. That initiative is part of Dayton's $51 million IT improvements to improve the digital infrastructure in the state.

• An investment of $2.1 million to upgrade and modernize the DNR's website so customers have greater access to recreation information and mobile friendly applications.

The fee increases would fill a growing gap between what Minnesotans can expect from the DNR and what the current license revenues can support.

"Our increases usually are about 15 percent," Landwehr said. "Typically, we try to keep the fees as modest as possible so everybody has access."

According to Landwehr, the environmental budget bills from the Senate and House of Representatives are lacking the fee increases, though. After this week, Landwehr said the House and Senate will convene in conference committee where there's a chance they could be added.

"There's always a lot of dynamics at the capitol. The committees are given targets on how much to spend and they can't spend beyond it," Landwehr said. "The leadership, though, can change the targets. So, it's in their hands."

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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