Possible Mid-June special session could take up numerous outdoors measures
JESSE WHITE OUTDOORS COLUMNIST
The Minnesota legislature and Gov. Tim Walz didn’t get a whole lot done this session outside of declaring statewide emergencies and talking about COVID-19 and thus the 2020 session ended with a giant thud.
There is talk of a special session in mid-June to get the ball rolling again on the state’s proposed bonding bill but that’s not the only item that needs discussion — some important outdoors related bills didn’t make it through the gauntlet.
One of those is the environmental policy bill, that despite a furious last-minute charge, didn’t make it to the finish line.
Walz and the Republican-controlled Senate were unable to come to an agreement on the bill authored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigsten (R-Alexandria) which included $62 million for the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources projects (LCCMR).
The LCCMR makes recommendations for projects and utilizes funds primarily from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF). In total, the LCCMR had tentatively selected about 77 projects totaling $61,387,000 for funding from the ENRTF.
Amongst those waiting anxiously to see what happens in June are officials from the Voyageurs Wolf Project (VWP), who were looking for about $575,000 to move into that project into its second phase.
The Voyageurs Wolf Project, which is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota and Voyageurs National Park, was started to address what researchers say is one of the biggest knowledge gaps in wolf ecology – what wolves do in the summer.
According to their website, the goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the summer ecology of wolves in the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem in northern Minnesota.
“Specifically, we want to understand the predation behavior and reproductive ecology of wolves during the summer,” officials there say.
To this point they’ve monitored some pretty interesting developments, including discovering that the wolves there will catch and eat freshwater fish and will eat wild blueberries.
They primarily track the wolves using GPS-collars, which cost about $2,000 each. Those collars reveal the locations of den and rendezvous sites, which is where pups are kept during the summer.
Voyageur researchers say that “by gathering detailed information on both the predation behavior and reproductive ecology of wolves, we are able to connect critical facets of wolf behavior during the summer to important ecological factors, prey populations, and human interactions.”
Their initial research has been described as a breakthrough by some wolf experts, and, according to VWP officials, the group has “an unparalleled opportunity to provide critical information for the successful conservation and management of wolves, their prey, and the southern boreal ecosystem. This work benefits not only Minnesota’s iconic Northwoods, but boreal systems around the globe from North America to Asia.”
But they need money to get there. The project received $293,000 from the ENRTF in 2018 and gets support from other groups including the Sturgeon River Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
It’s actually a small miracle this year’s bill got as far as it did as differences among state lawmakers over the use of the $1 billion trust fund to finance wastewater treatment projects almost killed the package earlier in the session.
That debate put a number of projects in jeopardy including the VWP.
The University of Minnesota wildlife biologist running the wolf project, Joseph Bump, wrote a letter to Ingebrigtsen in April expressing his concern for the future of the project should funding not go through, saying, in part, it “will not continue or recover without pending LCCMR support.”
“With LCCMR support we employ college students, hire technicians, rent boats and trucks, will buy a snowmobile, gas and lodging — all within Minnesota and mostly rural Minnesota,” Bump wrote.
For more information see www.voyageurswolfproject.org.