See more of the story

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released more than $1.2 million to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to educate anglers about the environmental benefits of using nontoxic fishing tackle to prevent lead poisoning in loons.

The money was hung up in the state Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, but Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, gave his go-ahead for the transfer after holding a hearing on Tuesday. An MPCA official detailed how the funds would be spent, and others explained the mortal threat that lost sinkers and jigs pose to loons and other waterfowl. The birds accidentally ingest the lead pieces when they skim lake bottoms for grit.

“We got a lot of things squared away,” Ingebrigtsen said Wednesday. “Nobody wanted to stop [the project], and it’s off and running.”

Ingebrigtsen had said earlier that he had concerns that MPCA jobs created under the three-year grant might become permanent. He also faced doubters who believed the delay in releasing the funds stemmed from the influence of manufacturers and others who fear the government is out to ban lead ammunition and fishing tackle.

Ingebrigtsen said it was the consensus of the committee to go along with the distribution of $1,270,590 for the MPCA’s “Get the Lead Out” campaign. The pro-loon contingent at the hearing included a group of Girl Scouts, he said.

Federal dollars for the public awareness effort derive from the U.S. settlement with British Petroleum over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The state proved to the Fish and Wildlife Service that Minnesota loons suffered from the disaster while wintering in the Gulf. Another $5 million in settlement funds was released late last year to the Department of Natural Resources for loon habitat projects.

If the feds are satisfied with Minnesota’s use of the money, and restoration goals for loons have not been reached in three years, funding could be repeated, said Carrol Henderson, a retired DNR nongame wildlife specialist who fought for the oil spill money.

“I’m so happy this got done,” he said.