Northern Wilds Magazine
Points North

Considering Fish Stocking, Forest Easements and Uncased Guns

Anglers should be careful attention to the progress of a bill proposing to close state fish hatcheries by 2012 and buy fish for stocking from private suppliers. The bill also proposes closing state nurseries by 2014 and buying seedlings from private nurseries. The lead author of the bill is Rep. Denny McNamara, R-St. Paul, and Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, is a co-author.

In a news story, Rep. Dill, chair of the Game, Fish and Forestry Division Committee, stocking, says the intent of the bill is not to cease fish stocking, but to start a discussion on whether privately produced fish, allegedly cheaper, should be used instead fish produced in state hatcheries. The DNR presently buys some walleyes from private producers, satisfying a legislative mandate resulting from the walleye stocking controversy of several years ago.

With due respect to Rep. Dill, let us hope this discussion is truly thoughtful and occurs beyond the confines of his committee room, because resulting decisions may significantly affect future angling. Across the state, stocking supports fishing for walleyes, muskies, trout and more. In addition, stocking is used to jump-start native fish restorations, from northwoods sturgeon to bluff country brook trout. In short, we have a wealth of naturally sustained wild fisheries, but stocking plays an important role in Minnesota fish management.

At stake is more than answering the relatively straight-forward question of whether it is cheaper for the DNR to buy fish than to raise them in hatcheries. Other issues to consider are the origins of brood stock, disease risks, the availability of select strains and species, and environmental concerns associated with aquaculture. Questions loom over how privately produced fish are paid for (could a future Legislature deem fish stocking an appropriate use of Lessard Heritage funds and then dictate stocking levels?), as well as the long term-viability of a stocking program that relies on privately produced fish. When the state operates fish hatcheries, we have reasonable assurance fish will be produced each year. If we rely on private production, it is easy to envision a future where cash-strapped DNR officials and/or politicians hold the money for purchasing fish at ransom or divert it to other uses. The same scenario could occur for state tree planting endeavors.

This is not to say we shouldn’t consider more effective or less expensive ways to raise fish for stocking. But we should also consider a future where we improve existing or build new state hatcheries making use of efficient, environmentally sound aquaculture techniques. If we care about the quality of fish stocked in our lakes and streams, this may be the best and most cost-effective option over the long haul.

A New Kind of Conservation

The Mother of All Funding Requests before the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council is a proposal to buy public access rights and assure future timber production on 187,000 acres of UPM-Blandin land in north-central Minnesota in the vicinity of Grand Rapids. The total cost of the project is so high its proponents will only say $50 million is considered “a placeholder” for doing the deal. They are asking the LOHC to recommend $44 million—more than half of the available funding.

There may be some irony that this proposal for the whole enchilada of heritage funding is coming from The Nature Conservancy, an organization that voluntarily coordinated the gathering of most funding proposals presented to the LOHC. It may also be ironic that three of the LOHC members have past connections to the Minnesota leadership of TNC. It may also be ironic that Governor Pawlenty nearly eliminates Sustainable Forestry Investment Act payments to corporate landowners in his budget proposal. So be it.

While the proposal has merit for protecting public access to the lands, proponents are underselling the fact that retaining the acreage in the state’s timber base has a far greater value to a mill town like Grand Rapids and the state’s economy. It would be interesting if instead of providing sweet talk about preserving the traditions of deer hunting and berry picking, the proponents gave us some straight talk on what this deal means in terms of fiber production.

This is a new kind of conservation practiced by a new kind of conservationist. If the deal goes through, Minnesota taxpayers will essentially pay big bucks to a multinational corporation to maintain the status quo. While such deals may be necessary in the current political climate, some old-style conservation is sorely needed. There is more than one way to skin a cat—or tax corporate landowners. Minnesota forest conservation would be better served if conservationists rolled up their sleeves and addressed the flawed tax structure of the Sustainable Forestry Investment Act so that corporate landowners have incentive to retain their lands and provide public access. In an era of economic failure and government bailouts, paying millions to a corporation for the stated purpose of preserving deer hunting is a hard pill to swallow.

Keep the Cases

Imagine seeing someone driving a pickup with an uncased military-style rifle in the gun rack. Such a scenario could occur in Minneapolis or Moorhead if a bill allowing uncased rifles, shotguns and bows in motor vehicles during the hunting season passes. While for some, such a sight might raise questions about who is driving the truck, others—myself included—would see it as a neither appealing nor necessary public image for hunters.

As a lifelong, avid hunter, I’ve never felt encumbered by the requirement to case up when you get into a vehicle. It takes but a few seconds and safely stores and protects your rifle or shotgun. I even case up when hunting in states where it is not required. Most of the states allowing uncased weapons in vehicles are more rural than Minnesota. Any supposed convenience gained from carrying an uncased weapon is outweighed by the fact Minnesota has six million people—the vast majority nonhunters. It is prudent to maintain positive, public perceptions of guns and hunting among those folks.

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