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Outdoors, natural resources bills flood into Minnesota Capitol

The Legislature is considering new laws on everything from boating, rough fish and copper mining to deer hunting and ATV trails.

Minnesota boater certification
Two boats carry anglers on Fish Lake near Duluth. A bill introduced in the Minnesota Legislature would require boater safety education certification for all boat operators born after 1987, phased in between 2025 and 2028. It's one of dozens of outdoor-related bills introduced at the Capitol.
John Myers / 2021 file / Duluth News Tribune

ST. PAUL — The 2023 Minnesota Legislature has been at it for a couple weeks now, churning out new bills like a sausage factory in the usual rush to get things done on time, and that includes dozens of bills that deal with the outdoors, environment and natural resources.

All new bills must pass at least one committee by March 10 and clear any tax or finance committee by April 4. Everything must wrap up by the May 22 session deadline.

Just because a bill is introduced, however, doesn’t mean it’s going to pass. Many bills are introduced as favors for constituents, or as statements on issues, even though they stand little or no chance of passing both the House and Senate and being signed into law by the governor.

Gov. Tim Walz's plan would benefit state parks, forests, boat landings and fish hatcheries and tackle climate issues.

This year, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party is in control of the House, Senate and the governor’s office, so it’s likely the party’s natural resource agenda will see favorable results.

Now is the time for Minnesota residents to get involved if they feel strongly about natural resource legislation by contacting their local lawmaker, and other lawmakers, to support or oppose bills. Read and track bills by number, topic or author and find out how to contact lawmakers at leg.mn.gov .


Here are some of the bills already introduced at the Capitol, some of which are working their way through the system, some of which are dead on arrival:

Copper mining ban in BWCAW watershed

Twin Metals map.png
The proposed Twin Metals mining operation.
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

House File 329/Senate File 167 would essentially prohibit mining in the Rainy River watershed, which includes the area in and around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park. The bill is an effort to prevent the development of the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine near Ely and any other so-called sulfide mining operations in the watershed with critics saying the potential for acid-mine runoff is too great. The bill would not impact iron ore mining on the Iron Range.

The bills have not been taken up by committees and would need Republican support to pass the state Senate
Under the Minnesota congressman, who will not say he believes humans contribute to climate change, the subcommittee will have jurisdiction over clean energy development on federal lands.
The administration is bringing back an Obama-era decision, later reversed by Trump, that bans new mineral leases on 225,500 acres of the Superior National Forest for the next two decades.
The Republican candidate for governor called for supporting copper-nickel mining in northern Minnesota, a controversial practice that could bring many high-paying jobs to the region but threaten to pollute its water resources.
The company expects to break ground at Keetac or Minntac this fall.
The study will inform the federal government on whether to place a 20-year ban on that type of mining in the watershed.
During a Friday, May 6, visit to St. Paul, Haaland said she couldn’t disclose if her agency would allow the proposed mine to move forward after the Interior canceled two mineral leases for Twin Metals, the company that wants to develop the mine. The secretary of the interior wasin Minnesota to announce nearly $9 million in federal funding for urban parks in the state.
Following the U.S. Department of the Interior's cancellation of federal mineral leases associated with the Twin Metals project, the DNR has stopped work on the state's environmental review.
Last year, the administration initiated a mineral withdrawal for the same watershed as the Boundary Waters.
It's the second time the Center for Biological Diversity has filed such a lawsuit.

Carbon-free energy requirement

The Thomson Hydro Station in Carlton is Minnesota Power's largest hydroelectric system.
Samantha Erkkila / 2021 file / Duluth News Tribune

HF7/SF4 would require electric generation in the state to be 100% free from producing carbon dioxide emissions by 2040. That means no coal or natural gas burning and a move to more wind, solar and hydropower, which supporters say will reduce the impacts of climate change.

Rough fish to get some respect?

rough fish
Bills introduced in the Minnesota Legislature would require the DNR to study the status of rough fish, like bigmouth buffalo, and determine if the species warrant protections such a specific seasons and limits. Fishing for many of the species is currently unlimited.
Tom Cherveney / Forum News Service file photo

HF245/SF188 would require the Department of Natural Resources to study whether some rough fish like longnose gar and bigmouth buffalo, including some species that may be in trouble, need more protections such as specific seasons and reduced bag limits. Many rough fish species now can be caught and killed at will, with no restrictions.

Fish kills

SF68/HF81 requires people to report fish kills of 100 or more fish to the state Office of Emergency Response. It also requires multiple state agencies, including the DNR, Health Department, Agriculture Department and Pollution Control Agency, to meet with University of Minnesota experts to form a fish kill response protocol and plan.

Operating a boat or personal watercraft

Resort visitors head out on the water
Customers of Sandy Point Lodge and Resort prepare to set off on their boat July 5, 2022.
Wyatt Buckner / File / Duluth News Tribune

SF553 would phase-in requirements for all boat and personal watercraft operators to take education/safety courses and become certified, much the same as firearms hunting certificates are required. The bill would begin to take effect in 2025. By 2028, anyone born after July 1, 1987, would be required to have the operator’s certificate to drive a boat or personal watercraft. The bill also increases safety requirements for businesses that rent boats and personal watercraft.


HF609/SF31 would update rules on snowmobile registrations and transferring titles after snowmobiles are sold.


Pesticides in deer

deer, doe with buck
Several bills introduced in the Minnesota Legislature deal with wildlife and hunting.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR

HF206/SF719 gives the Minnesota DNR $943,000 to study the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides in game species.

Eliminating the deer hunting shotgun-only zone

SF314 would eliminate the longstanding requirement that hunters in the southern and western portions of the state use only shotguns during the deer hunting season. The bill would allow the use of high-powered rifles and handguns and other legal firearms for deer statewide.

Deer stands in northwestern WMAs

HF40 would allow hunters to leave portable deer stands up overnight in state Wildlife Management Areas in northwestern Minnesota only during the bear and deer hunting seasons.

The department manages more than 200,000 acres for wildlife habitat and public hunting in 51 counties
Elk, moose and bighorn sheep lottery licenses are issued as once-in-a-lifetime licenses in North Dakota.
The Madeline Island Ferry Line’s five boats carry locals and their vehicles on the 25-minute trip across to the island.
Lawmakers must act to put a constitutional question on the 2024 election ballot or the trust fund expires.
Titled “Mink Sink, Swim on Burbot Catch,” the 1954 article featured commercial fishermen who were netting the “voracious predatory monsters” through the ice on Lake of the Woods for use as mink food.
HF 2564 would repeal “the current statutory language connecting the size of Minnesota’s elk herd to elk damage payments, giving the DNR greater ability to manage and grow Minnesota’s elk herd.”
To get an event in the Outdoors Calendar, contact Brad Dokken at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or by email at bdokken@gfherald.com. Deadline is 5 p.m. Wednesdays.
As part of the phase-in, Americans can draw a seven-day Manitoba waterfowl license this fall but must enter a lottery for a limited number of licenses in 2024.
Flooding last spring delayed the start of the survey along downstream portions of the river. The Grand Forks-based clerk, originally scheduled to start in May, didn’t start until mid-June.
Randy Hiltner, Northeast District fisheries supervisor for the Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, talks with Mike Anderson about summer fishing prospects in northeast North Dakota.
Tournament director Johnnie Candle said the change was made to accommodate the schedules of tournament anglers.
Compiling information for the book required untold amounts of windshield time traveling across the state and hours of research tracking down duck camp members or descendants.

Rainy Lake public dock

HF88/SF346 would give the city of Ranier $3 million for a new public boat docking facility on Rainy Lake.

Wolf hunting/trapping season

HF605 would require the DNR to hold a wolf hunting and trapping season if and when the animal is removed from the federal Endangered Species Protections. The bill, introduced by Rep. Ben Davis, a Republican from Merrifield, stands little chance of passing the DFL-controlled House. Gov. Walz also has said he opposes a wolf hunting season.

ATV trails

Bills at the Capitol in St. Paul would provide funding for several ATV trails in northern Minnesota, including the Prospectors ATV Trail.
Steve Kuchera / 2021 file / Duluth News Tribune

HF592/SF420 would give $700,000 to the Prospector ATV Trail development near Ely and $750,000 to the Voyageur Country ATV trail that runs across far northern St. Louis County. HF593/SF419 would give another $1.55 million to St. Louis County for improvements to the Voyageur Country, Prospector Loop and Quad Cities all-terrain vehicle trail systems in St. Louis, Lake and Koochiching counties.

Gitchi-Gami State Trail

SF51/HF123 would provide $4 million from state bond sales to complete three new sections of the bike trail that runs along the North Shore of Lake Superior.



SF587 would give the DNR $23 million from bond sales for reforestation efforts, including $10 million to design, renovate, construct, furnish and equip a new state forest nursery facility.

Outdoor Heritage Fund

051720.S.DNT.petgrouse c06.JPG
Legislation for the Outdoor Heritage Fund would include $1 million for the Ruffed Grouse Society to buy private forest land inholdings within blocks of public lands.
Tyler Schank / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

HF676/SF573 would fully fund the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council that doles out the natural resource share of the state’s heritage sales tax. The funding for fiscal 2024 (which starts July 1, 2023) and 2025 includes:

  • $2.5 million for continuation of the St. Louis River Restoration Initiative in Duluth;
  • Nearly $13 million for the St. Croix Watershed Habitat Protection and Restoration project;
  • $2.27 million for the DNR to acquire new wildlife management area land and new state scientific and natural area land;
  • $5 million to Pheasants Forever to acquire and enhance wildlife management area lands;
  • $3.6 million to acquire conservation easements to protect lakes in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing and Hubbard counties;
  • $1.1 million to the DNR to work with the National Park Service to restore wetlands in Voyageurs National Park that had been damaged by invasive species;
  • $5 million to accelerate acquisition of waterfowl production area lands;
  • $6.87 million to work with Ducks Unlimited to restore and enhance wetlands statewide;
  • $1.45 million to the DNR to restore and enhance forest wildlife habitats on public lands throughout Minnesota;
  • $1 million to the Ruffed Grouse Society to buy private forest land inholdings within blocks of public lands;
  • Millions of dollars for multiple projects to restore and enhance habitats for prairie wildlife in the state
Meetings this week will be held in Kindred on Wednesday and Harwood on Thursday.
Lawmakers unanimously approved the measure, which would replace terms like "feebleminded," "deaf and dumb" and "insane" with more modern nomenclature.
The state Department of Employment and Economic Development would have to hire more than 400 workers by 2026 to administer the program.
"I think it's absolutely essential to have this project to improve the connectivity," Commissioner Mandy George said.
The proposal would require all Minnesota district and charter high schools to offer an ethnic studies course by the 2026-2027 school year.
After her resignation, former West Fargo City Administrator Tina Fisk sent an email to two commissioners alluding to a severance request and expressing disappointment in Mayor Bernie Dardis.
Gov. Doug Burgum signed House Bill 1398, which creates a requirement for elementary, middle and high schools to teach computer science and cybersecurity classes.
Two incidents prompted Rep. Jayme Davis, D-Rolette, to propose a resolution regarding expectations of proper spectator conduct, as well as consequences for violating those expectations.
The measures move next to the Senate Finance Committee.
Officials from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Health say more than $45 million in Governor Tim Walz's budget would go toward reducing the chemicals in the state.

Bills that may be coming

Other outdoor issues haven’t yet been introduced as bills but still could show up, including:

Changes in deer farm laws

A moratorium on any new deer farms in the state passed the Senate during the 2022 session as part of the larger agriculture policy bill, but then a Republican lawmakers asked for a recess, the Senate reconvened and then Republicans who controlled the Senate came back to vote the bill down after a request by Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, whose brother owns a deer farm where chronic wasting disease has been found.

With DFLers now in control of the Senate and House, it’s possible the bill could come back in 2023 and could include a proposal to buy-out existing deer farms and phase-out captive deer farms in the state altogether. Some counties, including St. Louis already have enacted moratoriums on any new deer farms, with wildlife biologists saying the movement of infected tame deer has been a big cause of CWD spreading faster and farther.

Eastern Minnesota elk

A bill advanced last year that offered $1 million (later trimmed to $500,000) to the Fond du lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to reintroduce elk to Carlton and south St. Louis counties, moving some animals from northwestern Minnesota over several years. The bill was included in a larger natural resource funding bill that eventually died during the larger budget battle between DFlers and Republicans.

Lead jigs and lead shot

This x-ray of a loon that died from lead poisoning shows lead fishing tackle the loon had swallowed. Supporters of a phase-out of small lead fishing tackle say they may be back at the Legislature this year in an attempt to pass a bill requiring lead-free alternatives such as tin, bismuth and tungsten.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR

The long-running effort to phase out the use of small lead fishing tackle, namely sizes under one-half ounce, again failed to advance in 2022 but could be back in 2023. Supporters say the legislation would prevent the needless deaths of loons from lead poisoning. Efforts to expand requirements for non-toxic shot in shotgun shells and rifle ammunition for more hunting also did not advance in 2023.


Traps that kill dogs

Legislation that would change where and how trappers use their traps to keep them up off the ground and away from partially killing dogs also did not pass in 2022, but supporters say they are developing new bills for 2023 and have authors ready to introduce them before the bill deadline. Some types of traps set on or near the ground have killed several dogs in recent years, both pets and hunting dogs.

more by john myers

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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