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Fees may rise as lawmakers deal with outdoors issues

Many legislators are thinking about the outdoors while working inside the Minnesota Capitol.

Many want to allow gray wolf hunting, expand a fight against invading Asian carp and make other changes in outdoors-related laws. Among those changes could be raising hunting and fishing licenses to pay for other outdoors needs.

"Hunting and fishing licenses have gone 11 years with no real increase," said Rep. Denny McNamara, who chairs the House environment committee.

Minnesota's Game and Fish Fund is expected to be in debt by 2013 if nothing changes. Increasing fees could help balance the fund, said McNamara, R-Hastings.

Fee increases on boat licenses to help fight invasive aquatic species also are being considered, McNamara said. Most revenue for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' invasive species account comes from surcharges on watercraft and non-resident fishing licenses.

Legislators need to work with the DNR to determine how much the hike should be based on what they want the agency to do, said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, who authored the fee increase bill. Needed funding will vary depending on the level of aquatic invasive species prevention and enforcement, DNR officials said.

McNamara's Senate counterpart, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, also wants to raise fees. "There is nothing wrong with doing the right thing in an election year."

Fighting invasions such as by Asian carp, one species of which is known to jump out of rivers and hit boaters, takes money, the senator said. "We are going to have to look at raising fees to pay for that."

Zebra mussel is another invasive species particularly troublesome in Ingebrigtsen's lakes area.

"The voting public are the ones that are carrying zebra mussels from one state to another," he said, adding that Minnesota cannot wait for the federal government to act against invasive species.

Controlling the migration of Asian carp into the area will remain a high priority, McNamara said. The Legislature will search for ways to slow the movement of the fish, including installing electric barriers in rivers to stop the carp's advance from the south.

Some legislators hope to establish a hunting and trapping season for the gray wolf. The animal was recently taken off the federal endangered species list in the Great Lakes region.

"We anticipate setting that up as a game animal and establishing parameters for hunting," McNamara said.

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, introduced a bill that would create a wolf hunting and trapping season. Sen. Tom Saxhaug, R-Grand Rapids, is the chief author of a senate counterpart. The DNR also proposed a bill of its own on the topic.

Minnesota has about 3,000 wolves, according to DNR. The population has been stable for a decade and needs to stay above 1,600 to ensure the species' survival, the agency reported.

Part of the motivation for a wolf hunting and trapping season is that the animal has been a risk to livestock and has affected the deer population, Dill said.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, proposed allowing deer hunters to use a scope on their muzzle loaders. And he suggested that deer hunters north of U.S. 2 be allowed to leave portable deer stands on state property overnight, as well as opening more state lands to all-terrain vehicles.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, encouraged maintaining on-going clean-water efforts.

"The best use of our dollars right now is to keep our clean water clean," said Howe, who previously served on the Clean Water Council.