DNR struggles under funding constraints
Written by The Daily Mining Gazette   
Monday, 11 June 2007 16:09

The work of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is struggling to get done under the agency’s budget constraints.  DNR director Rebecca Humphries delivered that message Friday at a press conference at Houghton High School prior to a hearing held by the State House Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources in the high school auditorium.

“We’ve been concerned quite frankly about how we are going to be able to continue with our conservation work that’s so important to the state,” Humphries said.

The DNR has been making program cuts for the past three years.

“We’ve tightened the belt to the tune of $8 million,” Natural Resources Commission Chair Keith Charters said.

These cuts include 92 layoffs, a reduction in fish surveys of lakes and streams, reductions in fish hatchery production and planting, reduced wildlife population surveys and reductions in wildlife habitat restoration.

The agency also faces a projected $8 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The DNR does not have room to make further cuts, according to Charters.

“When it comes to talking about departments cutting back, I think the DNR has made its cuts,” Charters said.

As a way to generate more revenue, the agency has proposed a package of license fee increases for hunting and fishing. The State House of Representatives is considering a bill addressing hunting fees while the State Senate is considering a similar bill for fishing licenses.

License fees make up a quarter of the DNR’s funding, while money from the state general fund comprises only 9 percent of the agency’s funds.

The new license fee schedule would generate an estimated $11 million in the first year of implementation, allowing the DNR to restore some previous cuts.

Later, at the hearing, Humphries said the total revenue generated by the fee increases would depend on when the state legislature approves them. The sooner approval takes place, she said, the more licenses would be sold under the higher fees.

House Bill 4624 covers license fees for small game, wild turkey, waterfowl, firearm deer and bow and arrow or crossbow deer, bear, elk, and the trapping or hunting of fur-bearing animals.

The House bill would raise the fee for a resident firearm deer license, for example, from the current $15 to $18.75 this year. The fee would rise to $22.50 next year, to $26.25 in 2009, and to $30.00 at the beginning of 2010.

Senate Bill 406 covers fishing license fees including restricted fishing licenses, all-species annual licenses, 24-hour and 72-hour limited fishing licenses and senior fishing licenses.

Under the Senate bill, the fee for a resident all-species annual license, for example, would go from the current $28 to $31 next year. By 2011, the price would climb to $40.

While fee increases for state residents are incremental under the proposal, fees for non residents would reach their maximums directly at the outset.

Humphries said the DNR reviewed license fees in other states and Michigan’s were lower.

“We were definitely competitive and then some because our rates were much, much lower than neighboring states,” Humphries said.

She said it has been 11 years since Michigan adjusted its license fee schedule.

Jim Richardson, the newest member of the NRC from Ontonagon, said if the legislature approves the increases, people will expect the DNR to deliver improvements Michigan’s fisheries and game populations.

“If they are going to put money into it, they want to see what’s going to improve,” Richardson said.
 
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