ST. PAUL — Last week, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen spoke with Herald outdoor writer Brad Dokken about Governor Tim Walz’s bail and supplemental budget proposals. for DNR.
A story about the budget proposals and how they might ultimately fare among state lawmakers appeared in the Saturday, March 19 edition of the Herald. Strommen also talked about other DNR-related issues during the phone interview. Here is an edited transcript of that part of their conversation.
Q: Participation in outdoor activities skyrocketed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Has this trend been as strong as ever?
A: It’s changed a bit. We haven’t seen the exact same increase in every license sale or every game, but I would say that in general there is still a slight increase. There’s always interest from people who maybe weren’t as active outdoors before, and I think there’s a shift with new people wanting to use these spaces a little differently too .
The example I often use is paddle sports – kayaks and paddleboarding – and that’s something that historically we haven’t thought about as much as a state. We have a lot of boat access, but as far as some of the paddling sports go, other than the boundary waters canoe area, obviously this is a federal area (not so much).
We don’t have all the shore-based fishing opportunities that we could have, and I think some of the opportunities that exist now for kids, with some of the virtual competitions and things, I think there’s also an opportunity to take advantage of not only the increase in the number of people who are there, but also some of the changes in use and we make sure that we also provide opportunities for these people to connect outside.
Q: Where are things at in terms of chronic wasting disease legislation this session?
A: There are a few different bills as a result of the discussion in the last legislative session, which I think really widened after the Beltrami County situation came to light (in the spring of 2021), with the producer dumping infected carcasses on public land. Deer hunters and public landowners and local governments are really concerned about the liability of this issue. There is much more interest.
There are many discussions, from buyouts to a moratorium on new (cervid) farms, to various other demands.
Really what we plan to follow last year, when we got concurrent authority for whitetail deer farms with the Animal Health Council, our collective teams of staff worked together on the Council of animal health and MNR.
Our team also includes people from Law Enforcement and Fish and Wildlife as the Legislative Assembly directed that we really dive deep and look at the situation on the ground and come up with recommendations on authority future, as well as recommendations on how we can better mitigate the spread of chronic wasting disease.
And so we submitted a report to the Legislative Assembly in February with several recommendations, and it talks about what we found in some of these inspections that are of concern – a fairly high rate of fence violations and that kind things. And so, based on what we found in these inspections, we make a number of recommendations on: How can we address these shortcomings more quickly? How do you tag fawns at a younger age to ensure they are accounted for in herd inventories? This kind of things.
In terms of concurrent authority, both agencies envision that MNR will actually take over this inspection element of the system. So we’ll see where those recommendations go.
We’re still working on revising a memorandum of understanding with the Animal Health Board, and then there are a number of things like the gaps in the fences and the time frame to fix them, tagging and that sort of thing who will be for the Legislative Assembly this year.
Q: Regarding other laws, I know that one of the bills that has caught the attention of some Twin Cities media lately is the proposed four-golden limit across the State. If I understand correctly, the MNR supports this, but some retired biologists have said that it is not really necessary. Why change it if it’s not a science-based decision?
A: A few things about it. It’s very difficult in the regulatory world to be 100% sure of “is this going to improve the situation? Will this harm the situation? You use the best information you can, and certainly we have a lot of very talented, knowledgeable, and knowledgeable managers.
This came from anglers who were concerned about the sustainability of walleye populations and wanted to be proactive in protecting populations. Mainly because that statewide walleye possession limit hasn’t changed since 1956, when it was reduced from eight to six.
And if you think about how much fishing, angling, and technology has changed since then, it’s been quite a dramatic change, unlike a possession limit that hasn’t changed. When you think of all the electronics available now to provide incredible benefits to anglers – obviously we’re also dealing with climate change and invasive species – I’d say it’s not that it’s not focused on science.
It’s like any rule; you are using the best biological data and there is a social impact or a social aspect in this regulation. But it’s really about using that precautionary principle and saying it goes without saying that if six was the right number in 1956, given now, all the advantages that fishermen have and all the new pressures walleye, four would probably be better if we want to be conservative and make sure we preserve wildlife.
Q: Where are things going with the Red Lake Band in terms of outreach and a new bear management unit at the northwest corner? I know President Seki (Darrell Seki Sr.) sent you a letter at the end of February with some concerns, because about 80% of the land up there is owned by tribes.
A: We will be meeting with the Red Lake Band later this month to discuss these concerns further. This is the best update I can provide.
I think some of the concerns they had were specifically about bear hunting and potential trespassing risks. The Northwest Corner hunt is nothing new. The proposal was to designate the northwest corner as its own management unit, and that’s something other tribes are interested in because then you can isolate harvest data and population numbers.
So we’re going to sit down with Red Lake later this month and have more conversation about the issue and their views and where the proposal came from and what it entails, that sort of thing.