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Some critical habitat license plate revenues could get new uses

Funds raised from the sale of critical habitat license plates could be put to specific uses, depending on which animal a plate features, instead of being dedicated more broadly to habitat acquisition and improvement.

HF1877, sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), would dedicate revenue from the fish-and-angler plate to aquatic-management purposes and revenue from the pollinator plate to the planting of pollinator friendly vegetation on residential lawns.

The bill would also dedicate revenue from the loon, chickadee and lady slipper plates to nongame wildlife-management projects. Revenue from the big game, turkey and pheasant plates could go to inventorying and monitoring land and accepting gifts of land or interests of land as program projects, in addition to habitat acquisition.

On Thursday, the bill was laid over, as amended, by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee. Its companion, SF2189, is sponsored by Sen. D. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls) and awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee.

For an annual contribution of at least $30, Minnesotans can receive one of 10 specialty critical habitat license plates. The Department of Natural Resources receives about $5 million in annual revenue from sale of the plates.

Under existing law, revenue raised from all the specialty plates goes to the acquisition and improvement of critical natural habitat. The state can only spend funds to the extent they are matched one-to-one by private donations, such as the nongame wildlife checkoff on tax forms and land donations.

The DNR has also proposed changing how revenue from the sale of the plates could be used, though under its proposal, project funds wouldn't be dependent on which animal or scene a plate features. Under its proposal, more could be spent on nongame projects, and funds raised could be spent on land management and monitoring and research.

Bob Meier, assistant DNR commissioner, said he is concerned about earmarking revenue from specific plates for specific uses, rather than pooling all the funds together, a sentiment echoed by Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin).

The bill would also allow the DNR to spend $2 of license-plate revenue for every $1 in private donations, a proposal the department strongly supports. Because the department receives more in plate revenue than in donations each year, millions of dollars of funds sit unused in the critical habitat fund.

It would also appropriate $2 million from the General Fund to the Lawns to Legumes program.

Hansen said the bill would provide consistent funding for Minnesotans who want to implement pollinator practices on their lawns.

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