DULUTH, Minnesota – Last month Bob Walker took his son to a stretch of woodland southeast of Rochester, Minnesota in the hope that this year would be his last deer hunt.
He is 80 and wanted to retire from the hunt – but only after he shot one last deer.
“I thought, ‘I’ll stick with it until I get one and draw some positive message,'” said Walker.
Walker is healthy – he walks several miles every day. But he said it will be more difficult for him to walk in the forest. He tripped and fell while setting up his hunting blind this year.
In the past two years he has not seen a deer that he tried to shoot. But this fall one passed his blind. He shot and the deer fell.
“We yelled and yelled a bit and hugged,” recalled Walker. “And that was a really good day for me.”
Walker has hunted for more than 60 years, first with his father and uncle, then with his brother, then with his son.
At the age of 14 he shot his first deer – in the same forest on the Root River where he killed his last deer.
Now that he’s about to put his hunting rifle away, Walker wants to give his equipment to his four grandchildren and teach them to hunt.
“But the two older boys have absolutely no interest in hunting anything,” he said, adding that the two younger boys could change their minds.
What is happening within the Walker family illustrates a problem the Department of Natural Resources is facing across Minnesota: As more anglers and hunters stop fishing and hunting, there are fewer people to replace them, Minnesota Public reported Radio news.
This is a major problem because for decades the state has relied on license and registration fees, as well as taxes on equipment, to fund a significant portion of the conservation and management of natural resources.
Therefore the DNR asks for help. She wants Minnesotans to weigh up how best to fund outdoor recreation and conservation.
“The time is really right. We haven’t seen major investments in Minnesota’s conservation and outdoor recreational systems in a generation or more,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen.
Much of the state’s outdoor infrastructure, from state park facilities to fish hatcheries, was built in the 1950s and 60s, Strommen said. Some of these come from the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
“So it really is time, I think, to think about how we can revive this system, how we can invest in this system,” said Strommen, “so that it serves not only users today, but those of the future . “
Strommen said work is especially important now as unprecedented numbers of people turned to nature to relax outdoors and improve their mental health during the pandemic.
One way, said Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, is to get income from some of the newer ways humans engage in the outdoors, like mountain biking, rock climbing, or bird watching.
“Your fishing rod has an excise tax. A shotgun has an excise tax on all of the things that hunters and anglers do as part of their passion,” said Engwall. “It funds the management of the resource. And there are many activities that are growing and great that don’t have the same element of a tax.”
Texas voters opted for something similar. Two years ago they approved a measure that uses state sales tax revenues on sporting goods to fund state parks and wildlife.
The challenge is to make sure that the increase in fees doesn’t stop people from taking advantage of the great outdoors.
“If you ask too much or charge in the wrong place, you can create a financial barrier for some people,” said Strommen.
Another option, which requires the approval of the legislature, is to increase the funds that the DNR receives from the general fund of the state.
While the agency’s overall budget has increased significantly in recent years, this has been largely driven by funding that does not cover the DNR’s core budget.
The DNR’s current general allocations of approximately $ 104 million are significantly less than what the Agency received in 2000, when general allocations peaked at nearly $ 126 million.
Meanwhile, the agency is facing several critical natural resource issues, from invasive species to climate change to chronic disease.
Dave Zentner, former national president of the Izaak Walton League conservation group, said he was supporting more funding for the DNR.
Zentner said the process to determine that a new funding model must also address critical issues.
“What will the results be for the citizens and resources of Minnesota? What will we get if we invest more in the agency?” he asked.
Zentner is part of a small group that advises the DNR in its endeavors. Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, who recently served on the state’s outdoor recreation task force, is also advising the agency. She said a new funding model should serve all Minnesotas.
“The population in our state, the growing communities, is made up of blacks, indigenous peoples and other colored communities,” she said.
“So if we assume we have a successful system, we need to make sure we include these populations and their needs,” said Atlas-Ingebretson.
To that end, the DNR would like the public to help identify a vision for outdoor recreation and conservation in Minnesota. In the second half of 2022, the agency said it would propose a way to fund this vision in the future.