4 The Outdoors

collage of four images representing relax by showing a family cooking by a fire, be well by showing a yound child stepping into the water, adventure by showing family snowshoeing through the forest and traditions by showing a photo from the 1060s of two men showing off the pheasants

Funding what matters to Minnesotans

In Minnesota, we value the outdoors as a place to relax, be well, adventure, connect, marvel, continue traditions and try something new. Minnesota’s identity is entwined with the natural features and wonders that make the state an incredible place to live and visit.

While Minnesotans continually demonstrate their support for the environment and outdoors, Minnesota’s current natural resources funding system can’t sustainably support the conservation efforts, natural resource management, and outdoor recreation opportunities we value for the future.

Starting in 2021, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources led a transformational effort, in collaboration with a diverse cross-section of people, to identify what Minnesotans value for the future of conservation and outdoor recreation and what steps we collectively need to take to reach that future. Through a year-long process of conversations and public engagement, a shared vision for funding the future of outdoor recreation and conservation emerged. This vision included four guideposts:

  • Future generations benefit from sustained and improved outdoor recreation experiences and conservation of natural resources.
  • Minnesotans work together to support diverse outdoor recreation opportunities and conservation of our state’s natural features.
  • Conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities equitably meet the needs of all Minnesotans.
  • Conservation and outdoor recreation align with and are integrated into Minnesota state priorities.

Taking collective action

This vision resulted in the creation of the 4 The Outdoors Report. The report identifies some of the biggest challenges in securing adequate financial resources to support natural resource management for conservation and outdoor recreation, and also identifies concrete steps we can take to advance on the path towards financial stability and sustainability moving forward. To achieve the vision for the future of outdoor recreation and conservation in Minnesota, there are four areas where action is needed:

  1. Optimize the use of current funding
  2. Explore the use and application of fees
  3. Increase opportunities for direct support
  4. Secure stable and predictable base and operational funding
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4 steps in 4 years to ensure the future of conservation and outdoor recreation in Minnesota

Progress on any one of these actions will help Minnesota advance on the path toward the vision. Progress on all four actions is critical to fully realize what Minnesotans want for the future. These actions require a shared effort on the part of Minnesota DNR, its partners, legislators, nonprofits, and environmental organizations.

To learn more about these areas of action and possible strategies suggested by Minnesotans during the first phase of public engagement by reading the full 4 The Outdoors Report (PDF). As we move forward with implementation of the 4 The Outdoors Report, we are continuing to collaborate with Minnesotans on developing and refining these solutions.

What we have accomplished

The Minnesota DNR is grateful to the Minnesotans, partners, staff, and stakeholders who have already embarked on this path with us. One year into implementation, we are already making exciting progress towards a more sustainable funding future together.

In 2023, Minnesota DNR staff and leadership focused on the first 4 The Outdoors action, optimizing the use of current funding. Through these efforts, we have worked with our staff to maximize flexibility within current funding, pursue opportunities for improving efficiency, prioritize funding for the most critical needs and those which will help reduce costs in the future, and increase accountability and transparency of investments and spending.

Leveraging federal funds to improve the health of the Game and Fish Fund

The federal government recently clarified that state spending on Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), which are dollars paid by the state of Minnesota to local governments to compensate them for the loss of property taxes they would otherwise receive from public lands, is eligible to be matched by Pittman-Robertson dollars. Using PILT as Pittman-Robertson matching dollars puts an additional $7 million annually into the Game and Fish Fund, which has improved the health of the fund dramatically. This past legislative session, lawmakers made investments in conservation that will allow the DNR to capture an additional $29.8 million in Pittman-Robertson dollars, further improving the health of the Game and Fish Fund.

Using one-time investments to optimize operational efficiencies

DNR is working to modernize our systems, which improves both our efficiency and the experience of Minnesotans. For example, Parks and Trails has recently moved away from payment boxes and transitioned to electronic payments to increase efficiency, improve customer service, and reduce costs in the permit fulfillment process. We are also currently in the process of updating the Electronic License System for hunting, fishing, and other licenses.

In addition, the transformative $150 million Get Out MORE (Modernize Outdoor Recreation Experiences) investments will help ensure Minnesotans of all abilities and interests enjoy a world-class recreation system, whatever outdoor experience they choose. Get Out MORE funds critical improvements to infrastructure to enhance access and welcome new users to public lands, including investments in roads, trails, campgrounds, boat access, and stream restorations. These one-time investments will reduce annual maintenance costs and create operational efficiencies that help DNR better protect and manage natural resources. For example, a number of the state's fish hatcheries were constructed in the 1950s and are still operating with original equipment. $60 million in investments will move Minnesota toward a state-of-the-art fish hatchery system with safe and biosecure water supplies, increased fish production, and improved staff safety. These one-time investments will increase the efficiency of hatchery operations and fish production for generations to come.

Increasing opportunities for direct support

The DNR also initiated work on the third action, increasing opportunities for direct support. For example, the Minnesota State Park Nature Store returned to the Minnesota State Fair after a nearly 15-year hiatus. The return of the State Fair Nature Store generated nearly $100,000 in revenue for the DNR. This was a successful way to make it easier for Minnesotans to directly support the DNR through the purchase of state park merchandise.

How you can get involved

We are now opening a new dialogue with Minnesotans and Minnesota DNR staff to co-create solutions to secure stable and predictable base funding for conservation and outdoor recreation. We want your input to help shape the future of conservation and outdoor recreation in Minnesota! Here are a few ways you can get involved:

  • Sign up below to receive future updates on the progress and results of this initiative here using the “Sign up for updates” bar at the top of this webpage.
  • Check out the Investing in Minnesota’s Outdoor Resources to learn more, ask questions, and see the latest updates.
  • Talk to your friends, family, and DNR and elected officials about what you love in Minnesota’s natural places and why stable funding for these resources is important to you.

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