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Omnibus game and fish bill approved

Published (4/8/2011)
By Sue Hegarty
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The omnibus game and fish bill contains more than 60 proposed new or amended provisions to the state’s fishing and hunting laws, some of which are hot-button issues.

For example, expanding the number of lakes where anglers can drop in two lines is one of the more controversial provisions contained in HF984, sponsored by Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar). Currently, two lines may be used only for ice fishing and along border waters, such as Lake Superior, Lake Pepin and Big Stone Lake.

As amended and approved by the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee on a 10-4 vote April 5, the bill would no longer allow anglers to troll these lakes when fishing with two lines because boats would need to be anchored. The bill awaits action by the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.

The Department of Natural Resources opposes two-line fishing. Dirk Peterson, DNR fisheries chief, said it would likely result in increased mortality rates for fish caught and released and a decline in the size of fish harvested over time. Angling groups agreed.

“If we double the lines, we double the mortality. Scientists tell us this is not a good idea,” said Lance Ness, president of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative Alliance.

Two lines are favored by some legislators who view it as a competitive edge for states that allow two lines.

“We have it in Minnesota already. You can fish in the winter time with two lines, so it’s a pretty weak argument that we shouldn’t allow this. Every state around us does allow two-line fishing,” Hackbarth said.

Last year, two-line fishing was in a bill that passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty because of a different controversial provision, Hackbarth said.

Another fishing change could include cutting in half the number of lakes that can be designated as experimental and special management waters. The provision would reduce the current number of experimental lakes from 119 to 60. Several angling organizations objected to the proposed changes and Peterson said there is no fair way to choose which lakes to drop from the list.

Several proposed game regulations are also ruffling feathers. The bill would prohibit the DNR from adopting antler point restrictions on deer harvested in the southeastern part of the state, known as the Series 300 area. Several people representing hunting organizations spoke against the provision, saying it circumvents years of stakeholder input. Supporters said it makes poachers out of hunters who accidentally shoot deer and leave them in the woods to avoid violations.

In 2010, the first sandhill crane hunt in more than 100 years was permitted in Minnesota. The hunt was done by DNR rule, rather than legislative authority, and therefore had little public input, according to Audubon Minnesota. This bill would authorize hunting of sandhill crane in law. Hunting grounds would be limited to the northwest corner of the state. Last fall, the DNR offered permits because populations had increased to about 500,000 birds, above the population goal of 349,000. It issued 1,900 permits and had about 750 active hunters, according to Ed Boggess, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director.

“The mid-continent population is hunted by all the states of the central flyway … except Nebraska. The total harvest is between 20,000 and 30,000 and (Minnesota) took about 700,” Boggess said.

Rep. Kate Knuth (DFL-New Brighton) said she wants to ensure that hunting sandhill cranes won’t impact the protection of the whooping crane, which hunters might shoot by mistake.

Audubon Minnesota issued a list of steps it would like the DNR to implement, including educating hunters to prevent the accidental shooting of the federally and state endangered whooping crane.

The bill also includes language that would:

• allow a motorist who kills a deer with a vehicle to have the first right to keep the carcass;

• include compensation to farmers for fences damaged by elk;

• allow spearing on Cass Lake; and

• enable counties to offer bounties for coyotes.

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South

St. Paul) voted against the bill, saying many of the proposals are based on political pressure, rather than scientific evidence. For example, offering bounties on coyotes has not been proven to significantly reduce coyote populations. He also said the Department of Agriculture is worried that compensating farmers for fences damaged by elk will quickly deplete the funding appropriated for the crop damage compensation program.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) sponsors the companion bill, SF943, which awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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