A broad collection of more than 20 Minnesota hunting and fishing groups is urging hunters and anglers in the state to buy fishing and hunting licenses and stamps — even if they don’t intend to use them — this spring as a way to support the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Fish and Wildlife during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Fish and Wildlife Division, which oversees everything from wildlife management areas to deer surveys and fisheries work, is funded by license dollars and federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment.

If hunters and anglers don’t buy licenses, whether it’s because of tight budgets or uncertainty over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, funding for crucial fish and wildlife programs will suffer.

That’s also true in North Dakota, where the Game and Fish Department is funded entirely by license dollars.

Groups continued to sign on to the statement Friday morning as my deadline approached, but Joe Duggan, a retired Pheasants Forever vice president from Bloomington, Minn., and a longtime mover and shaker in Minnesota outdoors circles, called me Thursday night with a heads-up that a statement was being drafted.

"This is a unique time in history but folks, if they’re in a position to do so, ought to support hunting and fishing by buying their licenses this year," Duggan said.

Among the groups signing on to the statement were Pheasants Forever, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited, to name just a few.

A portion of the statement reads as follows:

"Not everyone realizes the management of fish and wildlife by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife, is paid for by hunters and anglers. This is done through the sale of fishing, hunting and related licenses and stamps, as well as federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment purchases. This vital work is funded by anglers and hunters. It is not funded by property or general income taxes.

"We in the hunting and angling community have a long history of stepping up during times of adversity to promote fish and wildlife management and conservation. Some of the best programs operating today were created in the shadow of the Great Depression of the 1930s."

In a phone interview, Duggan said the concept is similar to the appeal waterfowl groups make on behalf of the Federal Duck Stamp, proceeds of which fund a variety of waterfowl-related habitat and management projects across the country. In other words, funds generated by Duck Stamp sales go to a good cause, even if the people buying the stamps don’t hunt.

"The goal is to make an appeal to the public that if you can, you should buy a license," Duggan said. "It’s a good gesture on the part of folks to be thinking about this. The governor is saying go hunting, go fishing; just abide by the social distance protocols that everybody needs to follow."

Groups have been quick to sign on to the statement, Duggan said.

"It’s very encouraging," he said. "It’s really a broad-based common concern, and everybody’s respectful of the moment but also recognizing that if we want to take care of fish and wildlife, we need to make those investments as well, and sportsmen and women are stepping up."

As the letter states, many retail locations that sell hunting and fishing licenses remain open, and people are encouraged to support them. Licenses also are available online at  mndnr.gov or by calling (888) 665-4236.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.