Outdoors, natural resources bills flood into Minnesota Capitol
The Legislature is considering new laws on everything from boating, rough fish and copper mining to deer hunting and ATV trails.
ST. PAUL — The 2023 Minnesota Legislature has been at it for a couple weeks now, churning out new bills like a sausage factory in the usual rush to get things done on time, and that includes dozens of bills that deal with the outdoors, environment and natural resources.
All new bills must pass at least one committee by March 10 and clear any tax or finance committee by April 4. Everything must wrap up by the May 22 session deadline.
Just because a bill is introduced, however, doesn’t mean it’s going to pass. Many bills are introduced as favors for constituents, or as statements on issues, even though they stand little or no chance of passing both the House and Senate and being signed into law by the governor.
This year, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party is in control of the House, Senate and the governor’s office, so it’s likely the party’s natural resource agenda will see favorable results.
Now is the time for Minnesota residents to get involved if they feel strongly about natural resource legislation by contacting their local lawmaker, and other lawmakers, to support or oppose bills. Read and track bills by number, topic or author and find out how to contact lawmakers at leg.mn.gov .
Here are some of the bills already introduced at the Capitol, some of which are working their way through the system, some of which are dead on arrival:
Copper mining ban in BWCAW watershed
House File 329/Senate File 167 would essentially prohibit mining in the Rainy River watershed, which includes the area in and around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park. The bill is an effort to prevent the development of the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine near Ely and any other so-called sulfide mining operations in the watershed with critics saying the potential for acid-mine runoff is too great. The bill would not impact iron ore mining on the Iron Range.
Carbon-free energy requirement
HF7/SF4 would require electric generation in the state to be 100% free from producing carbon dioxide emissions by 2040. That means no coal or natural gas burning and a move to more wind, solar and hydropower, which supporters say will reduce the impacts of climate change.
Rough fish to get some respect?
HF245/SF188 would require the Department of Natural Resources to study whether some rough fish like longnose gar and bigmouth buffalo, including some species that may be in trouble, need more protections such as specific seasons and reduced bag limits. Many rough fish species now can be caught and killed at will, with no restrictions.
SF68/HF81 requires people to report fish kills of 100 or more fish to the state Office of Emergency Response. It also requires multiple state agencies, including the DNR, Health Department, Agriculture Department and Pollution Control Agency, to meet with University of Minnesota experts to form a fish kill response protocol and plan.
Operating a boat or personal watercraft
SF553 would phase-in requirements for all boat and personal watercraft operators to take education/safety courses and become certified, much the same as firearms hunting certificates are required. The bill would begin to take effect in 2025. By 2028, anyone born after July 1, 1987, would be required to have the operator’s certificate to drive a boat or personal watercraft. The bill also increases safety requirements for businesses that rent boats and personal watercraft.
HF609/SF31 would update rules on snowmobile registrations and transferring titles after snowmobiles are sold.
Pesticides in deer
HF206/SF719 gives the Minnesota DNR $943,000 to study the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides in game species.
Eliminating the deer hunting shotgun-only zone
SF314 would eliminate the longstanding requirement that hunters in the southern and western portions of the state use only shotguns during the deer hunting season. The bill would allow the use of high-powered rifles and handguns and other legal firearms for deer statewide.
Deer stands in northwestern WMAs
HF40 would allow hunters to leave portable deer stands up overnight in state Wildlife Management Areas in northwestern Minnesota only during the bear and deer hunting seasons.
Rainy Lake public dock
HF88/SF346 would give the city of Ranier $3 million for a new public boat docking facility on Rainy Lake.
Wolf hunting/trapping season
HF605 would require the DNR to hold a wolf hunting and trapping season if and when the animal is removed from the federal Endangered Species Protections. The bill, introduced by Rep. Ben Davis, a Republican from Merrifield, stands little chance of passing the DFL-controlled House. Gov. Walz also has said he opposes a wolf hunting season.
HF592/SF420 would give $700,000 to the Prospector ATV Trail development near Ely and $750,000 to the Voyageur Country ATV trail that runs across far northern St. Louis County. HF593/SF419 would give another $1.55 million to St. Louis County for improvements to the Voyageur Country, Prospector Loop and Quad Cities all-terrain vehicle trail systems in St. Louis, Lake and Koochiching counties.
Gitchi-Gami State Trail
SF51/HF123 would provide $4 million from state bond sales to complete three new sections of the bike trail that runs along the North Shore of Lake Superior.
SF587 would give the DNR $23 million from bond sales for reforestation efforts, including $10 million to design, renovate, construct, furnish and equip a new state forest nursery facility.
Outdoor Heritage Fund
HF676/SF573 would fully fund the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council that doles out the natural resource share of the state’s heritage sales tax. The funding for fiscal 2024 (which starts July 1, 2023) and 2025 includes:
- $2.5 million for continuation of the St. Louis River Restoration Initiative in Duluth;
- Nearly $13 million for the St. Croix Watershed Habitat Protection and Restoration project;
- $2.27 million for the DNR to acquire new wildlife management area land and new state scientific and natural area land;
- $5 million to Pheasants Forever to acquire and enhance wildlife management area lands;
- $3.6 million to acquire conservation easements to protect lakes in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing and Hubbard counties;
- $1.1 million to the DNR to work with the National Park Service to restore wetlands in Voyageurs National Park that had been damaged by invasive species;
- $5 million to accelerate acquisition of waterfowl production area lands;
- $6.87 million to work with Ducks Unlimited to restore and enhance wetlands statewide;
- $1.45 million to the DNR to restore and enhance forest wildlife habitats on public lands throughout Minnesota;
- $1 million to the Ruffed Grouse Society to buy private forest land inholdings within blocks of public lands;
- Millions of dollars for multiple projects to restore and enhance habitats for prairie wildlife in the state
Bills that may be coming
Other outdoor issues haven’t yet been introduced as bills but still could show up, including:
Changes in deer farm laws
A moratorium on any new deer farms in the state passed the Senate during the 2022 session as part of the larger agriculture policy bill, but then a Republican lawmakers asked for a recess, the Senate reconvened and then Republicans who controlled the Senate came back to vote the bill down after a request by Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, whose brother owns a deer farm where chronic wasting disease has been found.
With DFLers now in control of the Senate and House, it’s possible the bill could come back in 2023 and could include a proposal to buy-out existing deer farms and phase-out captive deer farms in the state altogether. Some counties, including St. Louis already have enacted moratoriums on any new deer farms, with wildlife biologists saying the movement of infected tame deer has been a big cause of CWD spreading faster and farther.
Eastern Minnesota elk
A bill advanced last year that offered $1 million (later trimmed to $500,000) to the Fond du lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to reintroduce elk to Carlton and south St. Louis counties, moving some animals from northwestern Minnesota over several years. The bill was included in a larger natural resource funding bill that eventually died during the larger budget battle between DFlers and Republicans.
Lead jigs and lead shot
The long-running effort to phase out the use of small lead fishing tackle, namely sizes under one-half ounce, again failed to advance in 2022 but could be back in 2023. Supporters say the legislation would prevent the needless deaths of loons from lead poisoning. Efforts to expand requirements for non-toxic shot in shotgun shells and rifle ammunition for more hunting also did not advance in 2023.
Traps that kill dogs
Legislation that would change where and how trappers use their traps to keep them up off the ground and away from partially killing dogs also did not pass in 2022, but supporters say they are developing new bills for 2023 and have authors ready to introduce them before the bill deadline. Some types of traps set on or near the ground have killed several dogs in recent years, both pets and hunting dogs.