ST. PAUL — State Sen. Andrew Lang doesn’t expect legislation affecting the outdoors to be making a lot of big headlines this session, although there are plenty of issues sure to be on the table.
Chronic wasting disease. Two lines for open water fishing. Smooth-bore long guns in the deer shotgun zone. Modifications to laws governing violations for hunting and fishing limits.
These are among the issues that Lang, as a member of the senate’s Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance committee, is likely to be hearing. He’s also a member of the Lessard - Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, all of which puts him in the center of the debates over outdoor issues at the Capitol.
He expects this to be more of an “inside baseball”-type of session, where much of the focus is on cleaning up existing legislation rather than launching new initiatives.
Here’s a look at some of the issues he anticipates hearing:
Two fishing lines open season
As the chief author of a bill allowing anglers to use two lines while fishing during the open water season, Lang said he certainly hopes to gain traction in his new run with the bill. He believes pairing it with a change in the daily walleye bag limit from six to four fish will aid the legislation. Last year’s legislation allowed anglers to pay an additional $5 fee on their fishing license to use two lines.
It faces challenges, he acknowledged. The Department of Natural Resources has been neutral on it, but fisheries division chief Brad Parsons noted at the annual Roundtable last month that states allowing two lines also have reduced bag limits. Lang said he’s also heard from fishing groups concerned about increased mortality.
Smooth bore for shotgun zone
There have been discussions about ending the shotgun-only requirement for the deer firearm season in much of southern Minnesota. Currently, rifles are not allowed in the shotgun zone.
Lang said we’re already allowing rifle cartridges in the zone, as long as they’re fired from a handgun and not a long gun. He also pointed out that technology has greatly improved the accuracy and range of some of the muzzle loaders and shotgun slugs now allowed in the zone. Some of these weapons are so advanced that they almost provide the range and accuracy of rifles, he pointed out.
The senator said it’s possible that a step toward allowing lower powered rifles, under the nomenclature of “smooth-walled cartridges,” may advance. He hasn’t heard a lot of opposition to the change, and said the safety record of most hunters doesn’t reflect a need for a shotgun zone.
Senator Lang successfully advanced legislation last session allowing coyote and fox hunters to use night vision equipment. In good part it was a safety measure, said Lang, pointing out that many pursue these species in the night.
The bill is up for some modification to take into account the use of infrared night vision gear. The Department of Natural Resources has asked for some cleanup of the language to assure that infrared is not used to spot the prey. Lang is optimistic that the right language can be found. Supporters of the legislation last year knew what was intended, he pointed out.
Chronic Wasting Disease
There are a number of proposals to ramp up the state’s efforts against Chronic Wasting Disease. The DNR is funding much of the work today using proceeds from hunting license sales. The bills would provide funding from general taxpayer dollars. They include funding for the University of Minnesota to develop a diagnostic test to identify infected deer.
Lang said the DNR has been good about compromising with legislators in also protecting the economic interests of deer farmers. Some deer farmers in the district have been hurt by the 30-day moratorium on transporting deer farm whitetails, he said.
No Net Gain
Lang said he does not expect the “no net gain” issue to advance this session. A bill would allow counties to cap the amount of public land in their borders at current levels. Any additional land acquired for public ownership would require that an equivalent amount of land be transferred to private ownership.
Lang said he understands where proponents of the legislation are coming from, but he doesn’t believe that a statewide “no net gain” rule does service to the intent of the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and Legacy Amendments. As part of the Outdoor Heritage Council, he helps oversee the use of funds for the purchase of conservation lands, mainly wildlife management areas. There has been a downward trend in the amount of land being acquired, and the focus is increasingly on restoration and enhancement work, he said.
The senator noted that counties already have the opportunity to state their opposition to land acquisitions by the DNR as they are brought forward.
Montevideo Recreational Trail
The senator is a sponsor of a bill seeking $990,000 to assist Montevideo to develop a leg of its recreational trail known as the Lake Snoopy loop due to the shape of a pond the trail would circle. Lang said it will have to compete with a long list of infrastructure and other bonding requests.
A bill in the House modifies the penalties for fishing and hunting over limits. In cases where the restitution value of the illegal game is between $1,000 and $2,000, the offense remains a gross misdemeanor. If the value is over $2,000, it would be a felony.
Portable deer stands left overnight
Last year the legislature approved a bill allowing bear hunters to leave portable deer stands overnight. The bill sunset at the end of the year, but is back to be made on-going. Land said allowing the stands to be left overnight only for bear hunters is a slippery slope. He's not sure we should be distinguishing between species, and believes regulations should be across the board on all public lands, state and federal.