Stalled loon protection funds examined

The Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee reviewed grant funding for a program to educate Minnesotans about the dangers of lead-based fishing tackle to Minnesota’s loon population this week.

The program, to be financed by federal funds awarded to the state out of the settlement proceeds from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, had been on indefinite hold since last November. The stall was attributable to the Republican committee chair, who wanted to know whether the grant would be used to beef up permanent staffing at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Following a series of questions and discussion at Tuesday’s hearing, he announced the program would be allowed to proceed.

The loon grant provides roughly $1.27 million for a program to educate Minnesotans about alternatives to lead-based fishing tackle. Lead poisoning is a leading cause of mortality for loons and other waterfowl. According to testimony heard by the committee, about 11-12% of the state’s loon deaths are lead-related.

Most agree angler education is key, because the market is not yet fully developed for lead-free fishing tackle and past efforts to ban lead tackle have not found adequate support. Under the program, the MPCA intends to organize lead tackle exchanges, partner with lake associations and teachers, and help retailers find alternative lead-free tackle, among other activities.

Additional staff positions at the MPCA are to be temporary, lasting the duration of the grant funds. Had the funds been allowed to go forward in November, they could have been available for use by January 1. While an MPCA official called the program delay “disappointing,” he said the program should be ready to go by the fishing opener in May.

Senate DFL Media