Significant Shift in DNR Roundtable With More Lake Advocate Voices in the Rooms

Lake Steward and Natural Shoreline Break Out Session Highlights

On Friday, January 19th, more than 400 people, 75 of them DNR personnel,  gathered at the DNR Roundtable to have conversations with other leaders in conservation, strengthen partnerships, and define challenges and opportunities in conservation efforts in fisheries, wildlife, and ecological and water resources in Minnesota.

For over 25 years the DNR Roundtable was by invitation only. No lake associations were invited. The event was dominated by the so-called “Hook and Bullet” crowd. 

In my experience, much of the focus, particularly for sidebar discussions, was on hunting regulations, Wildlife Management Area, WMA rules, slot limits and the need to increase hunting license fees.

There was a strong bias among attendees against lake associations. Again and again I heard attendees, and even DNR staff, claim that lake associations were only interested in shutting the public off of the public waters. Lake Associations were not viewed as valuable partners. There was little recognition that lake associations played an important role protecting our lakes and rivers and the values associated with them.

This year, MLR’s Lake Steward Program was featured at the Natural Shorelines Breakout Session

MLR has been advocating for years that Lake Associations should be included in the MN DNR Roundtable. Lake Associations are the indispensable partner in lake and river conservation:

  • Lake associations spend over $500,000 annually on fish stocking,
  • Lake associations commit over 1.2 million volunteer hours monitoring water quality, loon protection, AIS prevention, recreational improvements like fishing piers and shore lunch sites, firework displays and more,
  • Lake Associations spend almost $6 million annually on AIS management and prevention efforts, serve on local AIS committees and other local water quality committees. 

Back in 2020, one of the first changes the incoming MN DNR Commissioner, Sarah Strommen implemented was to include MLR in the planning conversations for the DNR Roundtable. Starting in 2022, the DNR began offering first come, first served invitations for the Roundtable. MLR notified our members of this opportunity and they responded in droves.

Tis year over 20 MLR members applied for these open spots and were able to attend the 2024 DNR Roundtable. It was an amazing opportunity. The Lake Association leaders I saw there were busily engaging Agency staff, legislators, the leaders of other public policy organizations and each other. The conversations in the rooms, the questions asked of panelists and the sidebar conversations in the lobby were different. There was a lot more conversation about water issues, about AIS funding and management strategies, minimum standards for shoreline development, aquatic plant management, fish stocking and boat access improvements.

Governor Walz and Commissioner Strommen welcomed a group of young leaders in conservation. They are inheriting the environment we leave them, and their focus is largely on Climate Change. Ave Wheelock, President of the Native American Student Coalition at Prior Lake High School, said, “We see the environment as our family. Climate change is like losing a family member.”

Lily Carr, Civic Organizer and Lake Steward Program coordinator, participated in the Protecting Minnesota’s Shorelines, along with Beth Carreno, Comfort Lake Forest Lake Watershed District, Steve Kloiber, MN DNR, and Kris Meyer, Freshwater Society. The room was full and there was a lot of good discussion about the need to protect and restore Minnesota’s remaining natural shoreline and specific Best Practices for shoreline management.

There was a lot of discussion about the MN DNR’s progress on the Minnesota Invasive Carp Action Plan. the rise of new fishing technology that allows anglers to target specific fish, modernize hunting and fishing licenses and the Get Out More – Modernize Outdoor Recreation Experiences, and how the $149 million appropriation from the 2023 Legislative Session will be appropriated over the next five to six years:

  • $35 million to upgrade 100 public access sites improving AIS prevention, accessibility, stormwater management, $55 million for fish hatchery upgrades and healthy shorelines.
  • $5 million for shore fishing sites,
  • $2 million to upgrade boat access signage.