Here is a “Voice for Mille Lacs.” Rep. Sondra Erickson has been challenging the DNR regarding “co-management” of Mille Lacs for years. She’s not asking for a lot. Just transparency and treating Minnesotans the same as tribes. Remember, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was created to ensure equal and fair treatment for American Indians, not to promote special rights and privileges.

A voice for Mille Lacs
By Rep. Sondra Erickson Monday, April 9, 2018

It is an honor and a privilege to be a voice for the Mille Lacs Lake area as a member of the House of Representatives in the Minnesota Legislature.

To that point, I face two big challenges in the 2018 session: helping the county and the lake area to grow its tax base, and making the Department of Natural Resources accountable and transparent for their actions regarding co-management of Mille Lacs Lake in the 1837 Ceded Territory.

Over the past years I have worked especially hard with a sense of purpose to help the area grapple with decisions by the DNR whom I challenge repeatedly on decisions made by the Fisheries Technical Committee–DNR, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) along with the eight Ojibwe Bands.

For example, the DNR knows that I want an extensive analysis of gill-netting during walleye spawn and a study of shared hooking mortality.

In respect to the failing economy in the area, the four townships surrounding the lake used to provide nearly 30 percent of the tax base of the county. Sadly, property values of this area have decreased significantly, partly because of the lack of fishing activity, again a result of the DNR’s PR about the lake and their closure of the lake to walleye fishing.

So, what is planned for this session? I have pre-filed a proposal that supports accountability and transparency:

*** Requesting the DNR commissioner to invite two members of the Mille Lacs Fishery Advisory Committee (MLFAC) to attend and observe the fisheries technical meetings (those who livelihood depends on the lake need to observe, not legislators);

*** And requiring that all past and present minutes from all fisheries technical meetings/ correspondence become public documents and get filed in the Legislative Reference Library (the DNR does not archive any documents, a practice again that lacks accountability and transparency).

*** In addition is a hold-over from last session: property tax abatement for affected area lake businesses, so I expect that proposal to be considered.

A welcomed surprise is that the Office of the Legislative Auditor will perform a financial audit of all special revenues collected by the DNR, an audit I have requested for several years and that may shed light on the cost/benefit of co-management.

Finally, I have or will introduce bills to create a Mille Lacs Lake task force to study co-management and a legislative study working group to tackle a long list of problems. And, yet to come is a proposal for some kind of economic boost for the area.

Lest I forget education, I follow the progress and achievement of all students and recently sent congratulatory notes to 70 Isle High School students for earning honor roll. As chair of the House E-12 Education Innovation Policy, I work with my committee to ensure that all students have opportunities to meet their individual needs and that they have the best qualified teachers possible.

I am a disciplined legislator who wants to do what is best and what is important, so I look forward to working with you. Please continue to provide me with your thoughts and ideas.

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