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Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria jots down notes during a Monday Minnesota Senate committee hearing. Forum Communications Co./Don Davis

Hunting, fishing fee dispute stalls outdoors bill

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ST. PAUL -- Raising hunting and fishing license fees, supported by the governor and key legislators, is in limbo after Tuesday debate on a Senate game and fish bill abruptly ended.

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Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, blamed politics for the failure of his license fee increase, a priority of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. Ingebrigtsen, Dayton and other proponents of higher fees say they are needed to fill a game and fish fund that is going broke.

Unless Dayton can come up with some Democratic votes for the plan, Ingebrigtsen said he does not plan to resume debate on his bill.

Besides the fees, Ingebrigtsen's bill would allow a wolf hunting season and make other changes in outdoors-related law.

The senator said Tuesday's dispute also is forcing him to reconsider plans to debate another bill today that includes funding for fighting invasive species.

Discussion on raising hunting and fishing license fees ended suddenly when the proposal was defeated 39-27, and the broader game and fish bill did not reach a vote at all when Ingebrigtsen tabled it.

Those fees have been the same for about 11 years. Minnesota's Game and Fish Fund is expected to be in debt by 2013 if nothing changes.

Ingebrigtsen warned that could mean layoffs and cutbacks without an increase.

"They need that cushion," Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said.

"These are the outdoor folks that care about the environment ... and they're willing to pay their way," Ingebrigtsen said.

Fee increases were not included in the House version of the bill that passed. But McNamara, the House environment committee's chairman, said he was hopeful working with the Senate on the issue would result in higher fees.

"This is a really important issue for the governor and his agency," he said. "This needs to be bipartisan."

Ingebrigtsen blamed Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, for the rejection of higher fees.

"He's making politics out of something that should not be partisan," Ingebrigtsen said.

Bakk did not immediately return a request for comment.

During Senate debate, Bakk said he was disappointed the bill would eliminate conservation fishing licenses, which he instigated a few years ago. The less expensive licenses put a voluntary cap of half the regular limit on fish.

"The point of it is to change the culture of fishing," he said.

Bakk said he might be more willing to support fee increases if the licenses were not eliminated.

Ingebrigtsen said he did not resist the Bakk proposal, but he did blame Bakk for failure of the fee increase. He did not plan to talk to Bakk about the issue, but asked Dayton to intervene to get Democratic votes to raise fees.

Senators of both parties voted against the fee proposal, which Ingebrigtsen said would hurt: "They are going to have to live with it."

Hunting and fishing organizations asked for the increase so funds would be available to fight invasive species and improve native habitats.

The stalled bill also includes hunting and trapping seasons for wolves. The animal recently was taken off the federal endangered species list, turning control over to the state.

The proposal would allow for up to 400 animals to be killed, an amount McNamara called "conservative." Minnesota has about 3,000 wolves, according to the Department of Natural Resources. The population needs to stay above 1,600 to ensure the species' survival.

"We happen to have an over-population according to the biology and science when it comes to wolves," Ingebrigtsen said.

A Bakk proposal to move the fishing opener from May 12, the weekend of Mother's Day, to May 5 never came up Tuesday. The one-time change was proposed because of the unseasonably warm weather earlier this spring.

If the Senate passes its bill, the House and Senate will need to combine their versions of the bill into one before it can be approved.

There are a few differences between the House and Senate versions and some sticking points, McNamara said. The Senate's bill, for example, allows for scopes on muzzle loaders, while the House voted against that measure.

Danielle Nordine reports for Forum Communications Co.

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