As we pass the 43rd annual Earth Day, the Legacy Bill to fund wildlife habitat and projects, parks and trails, and clean water initiatives was scheduled to be heard in the Minnesota House of Representatives. It was knocked back, however, by an all-day emphasis and debate on the omnibus health and human services finance bill.
Before the Legacy Bill (H.F. 1183, authored by Representative Kahn) reached the House floor, there was questioning and concern about sticking to the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Commission for wildlife projects. Some House members seemed puzzled by the vociferous nature of the Commission citizen members to keep their wildlife recommendations whole.
What may be forgotten by many is the push for another dedicated funding source for wildlife purposes is a three-decade effort. In 1984, the report, “Governor’s Citizen Commission to Promote Hunting, Fishing in Minnesota” called for $60 million a year for ten years to restore degraded wildlife habitat and start the Reinvest in Minnesota Resources program (RIM).
1997 saw the release of the report, “Citizen’s Advisory Committee to Promote Minnesota’s Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Heritage,” that picked up where the RIM report left off by noting the continuing deterioration of wildlife resources, and the fact that the Game and Fish Fund was operating in the red. And the first decade of this century continued the ten-year old debate in the Legislature for a sales tax increase – originally for wildlife habitat, but later expanded – that resulted in citizens approving the legacy constitutional amendment.
Minnesota citizens across the state during the Legacy Bill debate-years exhibited great passion for restoring and funding wildlife and it’s associated habitat. Many realized that people were going elsewhere to seek hunting and fishing opportunities.
Legacy leaders understood that the Legislature, with it’s many competing funding needs during budget shortfalls, would never dedicate large amounts to conservation purposes. It would have to be done by citizens voting to tax themselves at the polls to create a new revenue source for wildlife and overall environmental restoration.
The duck rallies during the early part of this century helped get political leaders committed to support a legacy constitutional amendment. And the need to also restore clean water, and help parks and trails, brought the so-called “greens and guns” coalition together for a potent force.
What many citizens seemed to realize when the Legacy Bill was voted on is we need to protect and enhance our natural resources because they ay be our most important quality of life indicator, and we owe it as a legacy to our children and grandchildren. Committed citizens will stay this vigilant about the monies they voted on for the 25 years the Legacy Bill funds will last.