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Mille Lacs Anglers, Resorts Take DNR To Court

ST. PAUL (WCCO) --Frustrated with tighter fishing restrictions on Lake Mille Lacs, resorters and sport fishing groups had their day in court. They're suing the Department of Natural Resources for ignoring a constitutional amendment.

In 1998, Minnesota voters passed an amendment to preserve the state's hunting and fishing heritage. But when the DNR passed emergency fishing rules last spring, the groups contend they had no say.

Mille Lacs is among the state's premier walleye fisheries. But fewer fish and strict limits have sent many anglers elsewhere.

"They have put this lake out of balance," Twin Pines Resort owner Bill Eno said.

Resorters like Eno and other anglers allege mismanagement on the part of Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources. On Thursday, the parties had their day in court before three justices on the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The petitioner's attorney, Erick Kaardal, argued "this whole area of Mille Lacs has been devastated -- the community, the way of life, the human environment. It's a shadow of what it once was."

Kaardal told the court that the DNR has ignored constitutional guarantees of the state's Outdoor Heritage Amendment. They did so by imposing a night fishing ban and tighter limits, without public input.

That's when Appeals Court Justice, Natalie Hudson, took issue.

"It seems to me they proceeded according to statutory authority to preserve and protect the walleye," Hudson said.

When the state got its 15 minutes to present its case, Assistant Attorney General Oliver Larson quickly clarified the original intent of the Preserve Hunting and Fishing Heritage Amendment.

Larson told the three-judge panel that it was aimed at the state legislature to guard against future attacks on the state's hunting and fishing culture, not DNR regulators.

"These are biologically necessary restrictions on fishing to insure the population doesn't collapse," Larson said.

After court a DNR spokesman reiterated that thought, explaining that tighter fishing regulations on any particular lake are completely in line with the amendment's intent.

"If we were not managing to bring the walleye back, there would be no heritage," DNR official Chris Niskanen said.

The appellate justices will have 90 days to issue their ruling. If they find the amendment was sidestepped, justices could order the DNR to show why it wasn't considered in the rulemaking process.

However, any ruling in the matter will come about the same time new fishing rules are being considered for the 2015 season.

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