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Lottery Dollars make Minnesota the envy of many other states

The Outdoors
Lead Summary
Scott Rall, outdoors columnist

When is the last time you bought a lottery ticket? For some it is at least a weekly occurrence and for others the answer might be never.
I am not a big gambler by any means, but I do buy a Powerball ticket every once in a while. I have no doubt that I will never win any money, but the Minnesota lottery does do some very good things with the money I spend.
When the lottery started in Minnesota, the citizens voted to amend the state constitution in 1988 to create the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
The dollars raised by a portion of the lottery that are deposited in this fund can only be used “for the public purpose of protection, conservation, preservation and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife and other natural resources.”
It was managed by the LCMR — the Legislative Commission of Minnesota Resources. This was a small group of elected officials, six I think, that as a group decided what the money was spent on. The Trust Fund has dispersed about $500 million since 1998. That averages out to about $20 million per year, but the totals annually in current years are much higher.
The citizens who voted for the Trust Fund’s creation were not all that happy about how those dollars were being spent. This brought about the creation of the LCCMR — Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources. They added a large group of citizens that then became involved in the process of deciding what got funded and what did not. I cannot back up this claim, but I was told that one year many years back, they paved some trails in Metro parks and bought some bicycles so people could more easily engage in appreciating the outdoors in Minnesota. Not cool!
The addition of citizens to the group was a great improvement to the process, and the results have been shown to be positive. If you think about the ads you see and hear on the television and the radio, they always have Minnesota’s common loon singing in the background. It was the intent of the supporters to better the waters and woods of the state, and the fund does a lot of good work today.
They still do some things I don’t like. The University of Minnesota has been a huge benefactor of the money from this fund. Much of it has been used for research projects on issues I don’t think have the highest priority.
I believe that night crawler research in northern Minnesota forests got some money one year. Another was a big sum to research common loons in Louisiana to see how the BP oil spill affected our state bird. In the end, the results of this expenditure did not change the outcome for our common loons. If we had waited a year or two, we would have known.
The direction of expenditures has greatly improved, and they fund the Minnesota DNR and many large conservation organizations. They do enhancement work on public lands, they acquire selected parcels for fee title acquisition as well, and do conservation easements.
In the end the Trust Fund lottery dollars provide a large influx of cash to do what other states only wish they could. Minnesota is the envy of many other states.
The resources we have need protection and that takes money. There is another fund called the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which I will cover next week. The only issue I have is that almost all of the funds used to protect and enhance our state’s natural resources are special funds moneys like the two I am talking about here.
The state of Minnesota actually ranks really low in the amount of state general fund dollars spent on the environment. This needs to change.
As these funds started to do more, I emphasis more, as the citizens expected they would, the state has actually cut back on the amount spent on these types of efforts. Wildlife Management Area acquisition used to be in the state’s general bonding bill every other year and since the Outdoor Heritage Fund was created, they have done a big fat zero in this category.  
There will always be room for improvement in how things are done, but I can say that I am very proud of the rank-and-file citizens of this state in their desire and efforts to help keep Minnesota a great place to hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at or on Twitter @habitat champion.

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