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Inside the Outdoors: Some politicians care most when votes are at stake

Inside the Outdoors with Mike Rahn

Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

As most of us know, and some may regret, this is an election year. Yes, it’s good to exercise our constitutional right to choose who will represent us. Perhaps less good is that we will have to endure a deluge of political advertising. Most will be highly partisan, and much of it barely on the plus side of honest. Some may be blatantly dishonest.

One of the things we can be sure of is that many politicians will seek the vote of the outdoors enthusiast. Come September or October, some will pose for campaign ad photos or video footage decked out in hunting or angling attire. It may be a blaze orange vest and hat, with a pheasant slough or birch trees in the background. Maybe it will be deer hunting garb. Accompanying the visual may be a message suggesting “I’m one of you,” or “I’ve got your back, sportsman!”

Gun rights, and the assurance that this candidate will protect them, is almost certain to be a part of the message. Some prospective office holders might even venture over to the angling side of policy and politics. Maybe their pitch will be the threat to our angling heritage posed by invasive species, or perhaps musky stocking policy, or walleye limits; anything that could be a hot button issue that might lead to votes.

For some this is genuine, and is who they really are. Some who serve in the Minnesota Senate or House of Representatives, or in Congress in Washington, have genuine “chops” as outdoor enthusiasts, and will make policy decisions and cast votes accordingly. Their bona fides may not always be hunting or fishing, but at least an understanding of how Nature works; an appreciation for and commitment to preserving a healthy environment that can support a wide variety of outdoor recreations, and the wildlife that commonly are part of the equation.

Several examples recently making news tell us something about how little some politicians really care about the priorities of outdoor men and women between campaigns. One is of particular interest to deer hunters. It involves measures to put the brakes on the spread of the deer-debilitating, deer-killing chronic wasting disease, which we know by the abbreviation CWD.


CWD is most prevalent in the Western United States, and is also found in states surrounding Minnesota. It is spread by direct contact between infected animals, and through indirect contact with their bodily fluids that leave infectious residues by which it can also be spread. CWD has been found on captive deer and elk farms in 16 Minnesota counties, starting first in the Southeast, and spreading elsewhere. Since 2002 it has been found in wild deer in seven counties, ranging from the Southeast to the Northwest.

Movement of infected animals between captive deer and elk farms is widely believed to have led to the region-to-region spread of CWD in wild deer. Numerous fencing and animal disposal violations have occurred at these farms, and the State Board of Animal Health—the agency that has regulated them—has been accused of lax enforcement of rules intended to protect wild deer. Important, because deer hunting in Minnesota is projected to have an annual economic impact of $500 million.

Last week, the Minnesota State Senate was poised to place a moratorium on new captive deer and elk farms. As of mid-2021, there were already 259 such captive deer and elk farms, containing more than 7,500 animals. The Minnesota Senate is controlled by a Republican majority, but—in a preliminary vote on an agriculture bill—five Republicans joined the Democratic minority in supporting an amendment to place a moratorium on new captive deer and elk farms. The moratorium—meaning a halt to new farms—was intended to help stop CWD’s spread.

While the bill was being considered, Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, of Winona, called a recess. When it ended and the Senate reconvened, all but one of the five Republicans had flipped their vote, and the moratorium was narrowly struck from the legislation. It has since been revealed that Majority Leader Miller’s brother operates a captive deer farm. The connection is too obvious to need stating.

Also making news was a statement made on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives during the last week of April by Representative Steve Green of Fosston. Green is perceived as wanting to keep agricultural land in that status, rather than being purchased and converted to conservation purposes. Green likened conservation groups—naming Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, specifically—to “money-laundering” groups. Both Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever have played major roles in preserving habitat for hunted and non-hunted wildlife, and enhancing hunting opportunities for resident and migrant game species. It’s doubtful that members of these groups, or the wider community of outdoors enthusiasts, appreciate Rep. Green comparing them to organized crime and lawless cartels.

These are not isolated examples of politicians placing special interests and personal priorities ahead of natural resource priorities and that legitimate public good. There have been attempts to divert constitutional amendment-dedicated conservation funds to be used to attract major sporting events to Minnesota, as well as to construct municipal wastewater treatment facilities. Some politicians would actually prevent private landowners from selling their lands to create Wildlife Management Areas or Waterfowl Production Areas. Not to mention an attempt by one former state lawmaker to legislate special walleye harvest rules on the lake where the lawmaker had a cabin.

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

In less than six months we’ll be asked to give political candidates our vote of confidence, and the power that goes with it. It’s fair to ask them just what they’ve done for us and our interests lately, and what they intend to do in the future. How outdoorsy they can appear in campaign ads is not the measure of whether they deserve our vote.

Opinion by Mike Rahn
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