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Policy not left behind in environment and natural resources agreement

Rep. Rick Hansen, chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division, comments during a May 23 informational hearing on the omnibus environment and natural resources bill. Photo by Andrew VonBank

A pair of issues provided serious stumbling blocks for House and Senate conferees tasked with working out a budget compromise on the omnibus environment and natural resources finance bill – chronic wasting disease and the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Unable to make the Monday legislative deadline for the bill sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), a walkthrough was offered Thursday on the agreement that is expected to go before legislators in special session in the next few days.

The compromise would provide $14.78 million above base appropriations of $324.2 million from the state’s General Fund during the 2020-21 biennium for the Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources, Metropolitan Council Regional Parks, Minnesota Conservation Corps, Board of Water and Soil Resources, Minnesota Zoo, Science Museum and Board of Tourism.

The House initially sought a spending increase of $30.38 million; the Senate a $57 million reduction.

[MORE View the spreadsheet]

Three weeks of negotiating while the conference committee awaited budget targets resulted in a number of policy provisions being adopted. Chief, and perhaps most intensely negotiated, were provisions relating to the state response to chronic wasting disease, the fatal neurological disease that has spread into Minnesota white-tail deer herds.

The compromise resulted in agreement that deer farms would:

  • be required to fence their perimeters with high-tensile fencing at least 96 inches high, effective upon passage;
  • install redundant gate access by Dec. 1, 2019;
  • tag white-tail deer before Oct. 31 of the year they are born, and elk and other cervids by Dec. 31 of the year they were born;
  • require annual physical inspections of farms, including an inspection of all perimeter fencing and verification of all tagged animals;
  • set inspection fees based on livestock use and composition;
  • deny future registration to permit holders whose registration has been revoked without a Board of Animal Health determination that future escapes are unlikely;
  • require all dead farmed cervids over 1 year old be tested for chronic wasting disease; and
  • require all farms testing positive for chronic wasting disease to depopulate the farm after an appraisal for federal indemnification, or in a reasonable time determined by the Board of Animal Health and Department of Natural Resources, and to maintain fencing with biohazard signs for five years thereafter.

The bulk of the additional funding included in the agreement will fund the board and department’s efforts relating to chronic wasting disease. The agreement would also increase the Aquatic Invasive Species surcharge to help fund ongoing control efforts and studies.

The House succeeded in keeping provisions to create a “No Child Left Inside” grant program, intended to help connect children to the outdoors. It would include Senate-sought funding for high school fishing league and firearms safety grants funded through the program.

The House also successfully included designation of the Rusty Patched bumble bee as the state bee.

The effort to rename a state park or state park structures after former Vice President Walter Mondale was reduced to naming a scenic river way for him.

A number of significant House provision failed to make their way into the compromise, including:

  • a ban on recreational wolf hunting;
  • the use of a portion of PCA pollution violation settlements by affected communities;
  • fee changes for watercraft;
  • establishing a tree planting goal for carbon sequestration;
  • allowing people with physical disabilities to use motorized vehicles in wildlife management areas without a permit;
  • repeal of turtle seller licensing;
  • requiring nontoxic shot be used by hunters in wildlife management areas;
  • establishing a carpet stewardship program and plan;
  • re-establishing the MPCA Citizens’ Board; and
  • creation of a voluntary salt applicators certification.

The Senate carried a number of significant provisions that made it into the agreement, including:

  • expanding zebra mussel control pilot programs on Gull Lake and Cross Lake to include all access points;
  • expanding state park open house days, when the public may access the parks free of charge, to three days per year;
  • allowing the use of night vision/thermal imaging equipment to hunt coyote and fox;
  • restricting application of storm water rules to county areas designated as urbanized;
  • modifying bear baiting to require drums be permanently tagged and removed from state lands out of season;
  • allowing the use of 410 shotguns for turkey hunting; and
  • requiring the DNR to continue operating the Hill-Annex Mine State Park through June 2021.


Trust fund dispute settled

The compromise would also approve how $64.47 million from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund is to be spent.

The disagreement over how to spend fund revenues was largely resolved by returning to the recommendations produced by the Legislative-Citizen Commission of Minnesota Resources.

[MORE See the LCCMR spreadsheet]

Each year, the LCCMR makes funding recommendations to the Legislature on projects that help maintain and enhance state environment and natural resources. Their mandate was established in the state constitution in 1963. 

Normally, the Legislature would approve recommendations for fund monies for the approaching year, in this case 2020. But money previously earmarked for debt service in 2019 was returned to the fund, leaving legislators with $2.94 million for which the LCCMR had not made recommendations.

The agreement worked out a number of appropriations to be made in 2019, including:

  • $1.8 million for development of a diagnostic test for chronic wasting disease;
  • $806,000 for creation of the Lawns to Legumes program; and
  • $330,000 for a grants management system for LCCMR.

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