Minnesota Fish & Wildlife Legislative Alliance announces

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Another voice for outdoors is gone

Dennis Anderson, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Jun 7, 2002

Failure of key conservation proposals to pass the Legislature this year was perhaps expected, given the state's budget shortfall and, particularly, lack of support from the governor's office. But the shutting this week of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative Alliance (FWLA) -- a sportsmen's umbrella group -- and the resignation of its executive director, Gary Botzek, was a surprise.

Botzek has been involved in Minnesota politics since he served as a special assistant to Gov. Al Quie more than 20 years ago. He said Thursday the FWLA died from lack of support from its member groups. At one time FWLA had an annual budget of more than $100,000. In recent years the group's budget was closer to $12,000, Botzek said.

FWLA's collapse is notable because it points up the lack in Minnesota of a single voice representing conservationists and/ or environmentalists. Instead, the state's conservation lobby is a veritable alphabet soup of groups, from MEP (the Minnesota Environmental Partnership), to MOHA (Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance) and COMCO (Coalition of Minnesota Conservation Organizations), among others, including the Game and Fish Coalition.

Additionally, at least some, if not many, of the niche outdoor groups in the state also lobby at the Capitol, either formally or informally. These include the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Pheasants Forever and others. The result, often, is confusion among legislators -- and ineffectiveness in amassing broad-based support for conservation and environmental initiatives.

The failure this session of a bill that would have placed on the fall ballot a proposed constitutional amendment dedicating 3/16ths of 1 percent of the state sales tax to conservation is a good example. The movement gained some unexpected life at the end of the session. But support was too little, too late. Additionally, the idea never really caught on with the public.

FWLA was formed in the mid-1980s to push the initial Re-invest in Minnesota legislation, a program that fostered habitat development and protection among private landowners. In its first years, FWLA's professional leadership bounced around. By the early 1990s it had settled with Capitol Connections, a lobbying firm Botzek co-owns with his wife, Luci.

FWLA's vision was to represent many, if not all, of Minnesota's various sportsmen's, environmental and conservation groups. To that end, Botzek said, the effort must be considered a failure, even though at least some, if not many, of the legislative proposals the group supported in its approximately 16 years were approved.

"FWLA never realized its full potential to bring together and keep together the major outdoor players in the state," he said.

Still, the coming governor's race presents an opportunity that COMCO, MOHA and other outdoor groups shouldn't miss.

"There's no question that if we are going to get increased funding for conservation, the governor -- whoever he is -- is going to have to support it," Botzek said.

"At least some of the current candidates are courting the outdoor groups, and it's time to ask for something in return. That's the way the teachers play the game. The unions, too. So should the outdoor groups."

Botzek said MOHA likely will survive as the main player representing at least some of the state's larger hunting and fishing groups. On the environmental side, he said, MEP -- the Minnesota Environmental Partnership -- likely will remain in the top spot.

"COMCO has, and could continue to, serve as an important bridge between those groups," Botzek said. "There are issues, many issues, on which hunting and fishing groups and environmental groups should get together, and COMCO could be an effective voice when they do."

At a COMCO meeting Wednesday night, Botzek and others discussed changing the 3/16ths proposal, seeking instead next session a quarter or even a half a percent of the state sales tax to fund efforts to protect and enhance the state's environment.

But instead of taking the money from current tax revenues, the larger percentage would be proposed to voters as an addition to the state's current 6 percent sales tax.

"If we can get it on the ballot, voters will have a chance to say whether they want to pay the extra money in sales tax for conservation or not," Botzek said.

But time is running out for these and other initiatives, Botzek said.

"We're another generation removed from the land," Botzek said. "People today just don't understand the importance of some of these issues."

-- Dennis Anderson is at danderson@startribune.com .
 

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