The following guest column by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn was published in the Roseville - Little Canada Review on Wednesday, June 19:
For the past three years, I have had the privilege of serving on the House Environment & Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committees. In 2019, I also served on the ten-member conference committee comprised of members from both the House and Senate to work out final compromises regarding environmental spending for the next biennium. Although the end result was not a perfect bill, it was pretty darn good, and I am proud of the bipartisan work we did together to make important steps forward in many areas. The following are some highlights from the final product this session:
No Child Left Inside. This initiative will establish a “No Child Left Inside” grant program through the Department of Natural Resources to provide opportunities to better engage youth outdoors. Total funding for the program was set at $1.2 million and will focus on three distinct areas: (1) programs that serve children who would otherwise have limited opportunities to participate in natural resource-based outdoor activities; (2) school-based programs that increase firearm safety and trap shooting, archery, hunting and angling activities that meet state physical education standards; and (3) supporting nonprofit organizations who provide high school fishing leagues.
Aquatic Invasive Species. Aquatic invasive species, or AIS, have been an ongoing problem in Minnesota lakes and rivers, impacting water quality, wildlife health and our fishing economy. We are very fortunate to have the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the U of M, a nationwide leader in helping us to better detect and control AIS like zebra mussels and spiny water flea. This year’s bill provides more stable funding for this center and increases AIS monitoring and education at boat launches, ensuring that our state can be effective in addressing this issue now and into the future.
Protecting Pollinators. In recent years, many of us have become more aware of the need to protect pollinators in order to protect our future food supply. Our final bill provides a “Lawns to Legumes” grant program to allow Minnesotans to turn residential yards into more pollinator friendly habitats. In addition, the rusty patched bumble bee is now our official state bee. This bee species is endangered but hopefully now more can be done to protect this bee and other pollinators from extinction. More information about the Lawns to Legumes program can be found here: https://bwsr.state.mn.us/lawns-legumes-program-creating-habitat-mn-pollinators
Emerald Ash Borer. Emerald Ash Borer, or EAB, has been prevalent in our area for years and this devastating insect continues to spread throughout the state. Our bill will provide grants to local units of government to replace ash trees on public land with more ecologically appropriate trees. In addition, over 15,000 native trees and plants will be planted in public land near the Mississippi River to offset the loss of ash trees.
Chronic Wasting Disease. As a lifelong deer hunter, I have worked hard over the past three years to bring more attention to the spread of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, in our state. CWD is a devastating prion disease with no cure and is threatening our hunting heritage and economy. This year we finally made real progress by increasing oversight of commercial deer breeding operations and making sure the Department of Natural Resources has what they need for better surveillance and management. We also provided funding to experts at the University of Minnesota to develop an improved test for the disease. My provision to develop guidelines for safer disposal of hunter harvested deer was also included in the final bill.
Those are some of the highlights from the 2019 Environment and Natural Resources Omnibus Bill that was signed into law by Governor Walz. In addition to the important work we accomplished with this year’s bill, next week I will begin my work serving on the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The Council is made up of legislators and citizens, and is tasked with making annual recommendations regarding how Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars should be spent. The Outdoor Heritage Fund is one of the four funds created by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment, with the purpose of “restoring, protecting, and enhancing Minnesota’s wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife.” It was an honor to be appointed to this Council, and I look forward to using my experience and knowledge to better protect the great outdoor places and spaces throughout our state.
As always, constituents are encouraged to contact my office if you have questions about these issues or other legislative issues now or in the future. My office can be reached at 651-296-7153 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.