DNR takes wrong path for cutbacks
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Thursday, 30 June 2005 14:51
Once again, the state Department of Natural Resources is facing a major budget deficit -- $8.1 million. And once again, the department will try to cover the shortfall by cutting services to the very people who provide most of its support -- hunters, anglers and campers.

Among the services the state plans to eliminate, reduce or delay funding are coho salmon stocking in Lake Michigan, putting trees in the Au Sable River to provide trout habitat, and testing deer heads for bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease.

In a news release, the agency said, "The general purpose Game and Fish Fund is primarily supported by revenue generated from hunting and fishing license sales. The fund is in deficit due to stagnant revenues brought about by flat license sales."

Here's some news for the DNR brass: At best, license sales will remain flat unless the agency does a lot more to encourage people to fish and hunt. As more people live in metropolitan areas, fewer grow up with hunting and fishing traditions.

And the way to retain the hunters and anglers and recruit more people to those sports is not to take steps that would reduce the quality of hunting and fishing.

If you're running a golf course, and the number of golfers you draw is decreasing, you don't try to cut costs by shutting down two of the holes. If you own a car dealership, you don't try to cut down on overhead by cutting back on the best-selling cars on your lot.

The real problem lies with the Legislature, which refuses to provide proper support for the DNR. Legislators apparently think things like state parks and fish hatcheries and bovine TB protection programs should pay for themselves. But there are some things government should do simply because it's good for the overall health and welfare of the state and the country.

We don't expect schools to be funded only by the parents whose children attend them. That's because we know education is crucial to the well-being of the country as a whole.

Similarly, the interstate highways aren't funded according to the number of miles each driver travels and the damage his vehicle inflicts on the roads. A civil engineer once told me that one big truck puts as much stress on a road as about 2,000 cars.

But we all benefit from the national network of interstates that let truckers bring us the remarkable bounty of consumer goods we enjoy, so we subsidize trucks on the roads.

By the same token, things like state parks, fishing, hunting and forests have enormous emotional value to many Michiganders. And they also have enormous economic value for the state's tourism industry.

As Tom Washington, the late president of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, used to say, "Tourists don't come to Michigan to go to the ballet." They come mostly to enjoy our fantastic natural resources, and they spend a lot of money to do so.

So maybe it's time for the DNR to stop cutting services and cut some people instead. Many businesses have had to make that painful decision, and there's no reason government should be exempt.

It sure would get the state employee unions involved, and that wouldn't be a bad thing.

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