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Inside the Outdoors: Minnesotans urged to support renewal of environmental funding amendment

Inside the Outdoors with Mike Rahn

Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

Over a lifetime of participating in our political process, there will probably be at least a few times when we have to “hold our nose and cast our ballot.” In other words, vote for a politician we may not be very excited about, but one who is — we hope — the lesser of the possible evils.

Among the very few things Minnesotans get to vote on other than politicians are “ballot initiatives.” Most common among these are constitutional amendments. These don’t come around every day, which is probably a good thing from the standpoint of keeping state government on a fairly steady course. Changing the rules too often is a prescription for confusion.

In order for everyday Minnesotans to have a voice in amending our state constitution, the Minnesota Legislature has to pass a bill to place an issue — typically in the form of a question — on the ballot in the next general election. These amendments, even if they pass with a majority of citizen votes, may have an expiration date, after which they would have to be passed again to remain in force.

One of the state constitutional amendments that has been of special importance to sportsmen and women is a 1988 amendment that dedicates a portion of Minnesota State Lottery proceeds to a special fund “for the public purpose of protection, conservation, preservation and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife and other natural resources.” This fund is known as the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund, or ENRTF. Having previously been renewed since 1988, this amendment is again expiring, and if it does not appear on the 2024 general election ballot and receive voter approval, it will end.

Money from this fund has been used to acquire land for parks, for native prairie preservation and restoration, control of invasive carp, creation of handicap-accessible fishing piers and shore fishing areas, agricultural and urban runoff water quality improvement, wetland restoration, wild rice restoration, investigating causes of moose mortality, boat launch facilities and other conservation and outdoor recreation purposes. Since the program began, roughly $900 million from state lottery proceeds has been used for some 1,700 projects.


Decisions on spending of assets in the Fund are made by the Legislative-Citizen Committee on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). This is a 17-member committee made up of state legislators and credentialed private citizens — often affiliated with private conservation groups — who together review funding requests and weigh in on proposals for use of the funds.

State legislators — politicians — outnumber private citizens on this committee, so perhaps it’s no surprise that from time to time expenditures are recommended that “push the envelope,” so to speak. One memorable one was an effort by some legislators in 2020 to tap the Fund for $1.5 million to upgrade local municipal wastewater treatment facilities. The constitutional amendment as approved by the state’s voters would allow very limited loans from the fund for this purpose, but not outright, no-strings-attached grants.

This was clearly a deviation from the Fund’s intended purpose. Municipal wastewater treatment is something that local taxpayers or state bonding should be responsible for. Such hijack efforts have been vigorously opposed by state conservation groups, most often successfully. But it may not be the last time that a lawmaker eyes the LCCMR pot of money as a source to fund an unauthorized pet project. As with our liberties, the price of assuring this Fund’s proper use — conservation initiatives — is eternal vigilance.

Minnesota conservation groups have been asking their members, and the public at large, to contact their state senators and representatives and ask them to support the rededication of state lottery funds to the originally intended environmental and outdoor recreation purposes, by voting to place reauthorization of funding for the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund on the 2024 election ballot.

It takes dollars, not just goodwill, to make natural resource protection and enhancement happen. Assuring a dependable source of funding for these initiatives is as vital as good intentions. The ENRTF has demonstrated its potential, and deserves a prominent place in Minnesota’s natural resource management future.

Mike Rahn - Inside the Outdoors.jpg
Mike Rahn, columnist

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