On Thursday in St. Charles, past and current members of the Bluffland Whitetails Association gathered to celebrate the group’s 20th anniversary.
The organization was the brainchild of a handful deer hunters who in the late 1990s believed southeast Minnesota had the potential to produce bigger bucks and better overall deer hunting. During the past two decades, the group has worked with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to reshape the way deer are managed in the region.
Two guests of honor at the anniversary celebration were Rep. Rick Hansen, a DFLer from South St. Paul, and Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, a DFLer from Roseville.
Hansen farms and hunts near Harmony and has a long record of supporting conservation efforts statewide. Most recently, he was largely responsible for the audit of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, whose less-than-stellar oversight of the state’s deer and elk farms is seen by many hunters as having contributed to the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer.
But on this night, it was Becker-Finn who received the biggest accolades.
John Zanmiller, a BWA member who donates his time to lobby at the Legislature, said the first-term legislator got BWA’s attention simply by asking questions other legislators preferred to avoid.
“People are terrified of the letters ‘CWD’ at the Legislature,” Zanmiller said. “No one would say anything. But there was one legislator — other than Rick Hansen, of course — who would come to committee meetings and ask, ‘When are we going to talk about CWD?’”
Zanmiller said that question was not well-received by the Republican leadership, which tends to listen to the northern Minnesota-based Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
“You could see veins popping out of the committee chairman’s forehead when she did that,” he said. “How could a legislator from the northern suburbs, from the minority power, dare to say those three letters? Because she was showing courage, saying ‘We have to make a decision.’ Right, wrong or indifferent, we need to act, because inaction is worse than doing the wrong thing.”
That courage earned Becker-Finn the Bluffland Whitetails Association Outstanding Legislator Award for 2018.
“Who would have thought that our newest best ally grew up around Cass Lake in northern Minnesota and now represents the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities?” Zanmiller said.
Becker-Finn, a 35-year-old mother of two who still hunts near Cass Lake, said it’s no secret why her outspokenness caused a stir in the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.
“They still don’t know what to do with me when I speak,” she said. “They’re not used to not only a freshman, but a freshman girl saying smart stuff about deer hunting. It drives them a bit crazy.”
But Becker-Finn said she sees no reason for party divides or north-south acrimony when it comes to managing the state’s deer herd.
“All deer hunters care about the same things,” she said. “We want a healthy herd so that we can safely feed venison to our families. We want to be able to teach our kids and our grandkids the traditions that we grew up with and pass those traditions down to them.”
She further argued there’s no reason a legislator from the northern suburbs shouldn’t be very concerned about deer hunting and the spread of chronic wasting disease.
“Sure, my constituents don’t hunt in Roseville, but they drive down here, and they drive up north, and they get out in the woods and hunt deer,” she said. “We care about these issues, even though we live in the suburbs, and we have a battle ahead of us.”