Conservation Minnesota

First Annual Pheasant Opener Good for Tourism

“There is more to being Minnesota’s governor than balancing the budget . . .”

Elmer L. Andersen*

Governor of Minnesota (1961-1963)

I’m sure, after a brutal regular legislative session trying to solve a $5 billion budget deficit followed by the longest government shutdown in our nation’s history before the budget was resolved, Governor Mark Dayton can take some solace from this statement by former Governor Elmer L. Andersen in his autobiography.  Governor Andersen served only one term as governor back when the governor’s term was still two years.  He lost an extremely close and contentious race for reelection in 1962 that required a recount that took 139 days to complete.  This was the longest recount in the state’s record books until the most recent 2008 Franken/Coleman U.S. Senate recount.

Former Governor Andersen is best known amongst the conservation community as father of the Voyageurs National Park.  After his term as governor, he played a key role in establishing Minnesota’s only national park.  What few may know of Andersen is that he is also the father of what has become known as the Governor’s Fishing Opener.

The Minnesota Historical Society indicated that most give credit to former Governor Luther Youngdahl with holding the first “governor’s opener” back in 1948.  In reality there is no indication that there was much to the 1948 event, and it seems more likely to be a promotion for the Lake Mille Lacs area put together by the Minneapolis Tribune to expand their advertising base.  In 1958, then lieutenant governor Karl Rolvaag, who would be the opposing candidate to Andersen in 1962, organized a walleye opener at Upper Red Lake that included many of top state officials.  It was known then more as the lieutenant governor’s fishing party.  Rolvaag had a reputation of emphasizing the party part of the event more than the fishing.

In 1961, Andersen began the tradition of using the event to promote the state’s deep heritage of outdoor activities for the purpose of tourism and to move the event around to different locations in the state to help local chambers promote their particular community.  The “First Annual Fisherama” of administration officials and outdoor sports journalists occurred at Leech Lake in Walker, Minnesota.

Since then the fishing opener has become an iconic Minnesota event for our tourism industry. Governor Dayton is seeking to expand on this idea by establishing a new tradition with the First Annual Governor’s Pheasant Opener in Montevideo, Minnesota.  Upland bird hunting alone generates about $121 million of retail sales in the state and supports more than 2300 jobs according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  About 90,000 hunters will go out in search of the elusive pheasant on our western and southern prairies for the opener on Saturday, October 15.

Unfortunately, upland bird habitat is being jeopardized as a record amount of acreage in the Federal Reserve programs are coming out of enrollment.  Thankfully Minnesota voters with the strong support of pheasant hunters adopted the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment in 2008.  A portion of those funds have been going to preservation of these key prairie assets in order to keep this important economic engine of the state running.  Governor Dayton should be commended for highlighting this very important and deeply held Minnesota heritage, which, incidentally, is an activity he has been participating in since his youth.  Fortunately for Governor Dayton there is more to being a governor than just balancing the budget.  Governor, we hope you bag your limit.

* “A Man’s Reach” by Elmer L. Andersen, University of Minnesota Press, 2000. p. 220

About John Tuma

John Tuma
John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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