Deer, oil and mussels

DNR Comissioner Tom Landwehr visited Bemidji last Wednesday to meet with the Forestry Affairs Council, and together with MPR’s John Enger and my boss Dennis Doeden, I interviewed Landwehr in the lobby of the new Hampton hotel.

We started out with some relatively softball stuff like the strict deer hunting season ahead and invasive species, but then we moved into more controversial topics like the DNR’s position on Enbridge Energy’s Sandpiper oil line.

Landwehr said the rough winters Minnesota saw last year and the year before have taken a toll on the deer population, leading for the DNR to make this season “the most conservative season we’ve had in two decades.”

I wonder what the tougher limits will do to hunter turnout? Deer hunting isn’t something I’ve dealt with much on my beat so far, but with the Governor’s Deer Opener in Bemidji this year, that’s sure to change.

I HAVE followed the AIS issue quite a bit, though, and Landwehr said something that surprised me. The Legislature appropriated millions of dollars to local anti-AIS initiatives from counties and watershed associations, indirectly helping out the DNR by adding inspectors/educators. However, Landwehr said the DNR did not ask or even anticipate for that money being appropriated. It was “completely out of the blue”, he said.

I understand it was probably the local groups that pushed for that legislation in the first place but wouldn’t it make sense for the Legislature to at least consult more thoroughly with the DNR before they passed that bill? Beltrami County isn’t complaining because we received thousands of dollars for our AIS campaign, but the county and DNR inspectors will be working together, maybe literally side-by-side. If what Landwehr says is accurate, the state should have planned this funding surge a lot better.

Landwehr also talked about invasive carp, praising the recent federal move to close the St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam as “very good news”. He said the DNR is pushing the Army Corps of Engineers, which runs the dam, to simply not reopen it after they close for winter. This could mean the dam gets closed months earlier than the yearlong deadline the U.S. Congress gave the Army.

Finally, I asked him about the DNR’s position regarding Sandpiper. Landwehr said it was good that the Public Utilities Comission decided to study more routes than just the one Enbridge proposed, saying it wasn’t a “good deliberative process” to just study Enbridge’s route. The DNR and the MPCA have both brought up potential environmental issues associated with the line. The DNR controls permits for whether Sandpiper can cross state lands/waters.

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