REGIONAL—A program to educate Minnesotans about alternatives to lead-based fishing tackle is on indefinite hold until a Senate finance chair gets a hearing on the subject.The roughly $1.27 …
REGIONAL—A program to educate Minnesotans about alternatives to lead-based fishing tackle is on indefinite hold until a Senate finance chair gets a hearing on the subject.
The roughly $1.27 million in funding for the educational effort isn’t coming from state tax dollars. In fact, the funds come from the legal settlement with British Petroleum reached in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But even settlement funds can’t be spent by the state of Minnesota without approval of the four-person Legislative Advisory Commission, or LAC, which, last November, opted to block funds for the educational effort on lead at the behest of Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.
Ingebrigtsen didn’t return a phone call from the Timberjay, but an aide stated that the senator plans to hold a hearing on the issue sometime early in the session.
GOP Sen. Carrie Ruud, of Breezy Point, said it appears that Engebrigtsen has concerns that the funding would provide for the hiring of two full-time positions at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “My understanding is that that’s the hold-up,” said Ruud. Ingebrigtsen’s aide confirmed the senator’s concern about the two MPCA positions.
Ruud said she supports the project and the funding and is hopeful that the impasse can be broken soon. “My constituents worked hard to get this. And we’re not even talking about taxpayer money.”
Supporters of the measure note that the two positions that would be created by the funding are slated to be temporary, lasting only as long as the dollars are available. The funding, however, could potentially last up to 15 years, since it can be renewed in three-year increments up to five times. If the funding is continued, it could generate up to $27.5 million for loon-related habitat and educational efforts in the state.
Under the settlement grant, the funds could have been used beginning Jan. 1, so supporters note that the funding block is already delaying efforts to get the program underway.
MPCA officials say they’re not aware of the basis for Ingebrigtsen’s concerns. “The MPCA doesn’t understand why the hold hasn’t been lifted since loon conservation is a commonsense priority for every Minnesotan,” stated MPCA spokesperson Darin Broton.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees a portion of the BP settlement funds, granted an initial allotment of $5.5 million to the state, after DNR-sponsored research demonstrated that the BP oil spill had impacted Minnesota loons. The DNR’s longtime Nongame Wildlife program director Carrol Henderson oversaw that research with $641,000 in funding from the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources, or LCCMR. That research helped Minnesota stand out when the settlement funds became available. Minnesota’s proposal was one of just three— out of more than 400 requests submitted— that the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to fund.
Most of the Minnesota settlement funds will actually be distributed to local organizations, such as lake associations or other conservation groups, to pay for improving loon habitat on Minnesota lakes through the use of conservation easements and the installation of loon nest platforms.
But the proposal also includes the educational effort to reduce the use of lead tackle, which is known to be harmful, even deadly, to many water-oriented birds, including swans and loons. According to Henderson, lead tackle may be killing as many as 200-300 loons per year in the state, based on population modeling. “Lead’s a neurotoxin and the more we study it, the more we see what a detriment it is to wildlife,” said Henderson. “And now we have so many good alternatives, like bismuth and tungsten. There are 43 different manufacturers that are already making tackle from non-toxic materials.”
Like Henderson, Ruud said she’s not supporting a ban on lead tackle but believes that anglers will voluntarily make the change once they better understand the dangers that lead tackle creates for wildlife and the alternatives to lead which are already on the market. “Banning stuff is not how to get this done,” said Ruud. “But, if we can educate the next generation, then I think we’ll push the market.”
Henderson agrees. “We’re trying to shift the market in a non-controversial way,” he said, noting that it will require educating anglers as well as retailers. “A lot of times it’s hard to find the non-toxic tackle even if you’re looking for it,” said Henderson. “We need to encourage retailers to make it more visible.”
In the meantime, supporters are hoping to convince Ingebrigtsen to release the hold so the program can get underway. “For the state to walk away from $1.2 million for an educational effort to save loons doesn’t make much sense,” said Henderson.