Provost: Ninety percent of what we did then was strictly game and fish enforcement. We were the game warden. We were checking fishermen and trappers, hunters, that was what we did.To say those duties have mushroomed is an understatement. A quarter-million more people hunt in Minnesota than did 50 years ago, 700,000 more go fishing. Add to that the development of snowmobiles, ATVs, highpowered boats and hundreds of lakeshore ordinances. The only number that's actually shrunk, is the number of officers who handle it all: from 147 in 1949, to 130 today.
Provost: We're very desperate. We have close to 20 vacancies at this time, and we don't have money available right now to even put a small class together. In the next few years it could get as high as 50 vacancies.The weakened enforcement arm of the DNR is the most visible example of what officials call agency-wide belt tightening. In 1999, the DNR reduced its lake-mapping and fish management programs. It trimmed efforts to minimize damage from nuisance bears and deer. It scrapped next year's moose-hunting season. At a recent public meeting in Brainerd, regional administrator C.B. Bylander faced a room packed with outdoor enthusiasts to argue for what in the past has been an unpopular idea to prop up the DNR's budget by raising hunting and fishing license fees.
Bylander: Managing the outdoors is like maintaining an automobile. You can drive and drive it and drive it, but sometime you have to make a little investment.When Bylander set forth specifics - fishing licenses would go up $1, small game licenses $2, and deer licenses $3, to be matched with general-fund money - there were few discontented rumbles. Though the agency perennially weathers accusations of inefficiency or incompetence, most of those at the meeting favored the increases. Some almost demanded them.
Hoberg: To what degree is the sporting community subsidizing tourism, birdwatchers, trail users, park users? And is that right, from a policy perspective? I'm not hardheaded about this, but I do think it's a fairness issue, and we have to be fair to the sporting community.As for those who are loudly asking that their fees be raised, Hoberg suggests they are members of activist sporting groups like the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and a tiny percentage of those who actually hunt and fish.
Hasskamp: I sent letters to everyone who's ever written to me, telling them I needed to hear about this issue. And I haven't heard from one person except those who want the increase, based on their knowledge of the facts.The DNR will hold seven public meetings around the state this month to try to build public support for its funding proposal.