Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Budget shortfalls challenge DNR

Editor

Madison With a budget already dipping into the red before the
CWD news broke, the DNR now finds itself looking to make up about
$12 million per year, with the first chance to close that gap
coming in 2004.

Considering the state faces a $1.5 billion budget deficit, it
appears sportsmen will be asked to shoulder that load, despite the
fact that chronic wasting disease could be considered a statewide
concern of all residents, not just hunters, trappers, and
fishermen.

So far, there has been no formal proposal on just what this will
mean to license buyers.

“I’m hearing $10 increases for deer licenses and $7 increases
for fishing licenses,” said Steve Oestreicher of Harshaw,
Conservation Congress chairman.

Joe Polasek of Madison is the DNR’s budget wizard.

“There has been nothing finalized in the way of a proposed fee
package, but it’s clear we will need a shot in the arm on the fish
and wildlife account. If we do get a fee increase, it wouldn’t take
effect until March of 2004, and the last fee increase was March of
1997,” Polasek said.

He said the DNR hopes it will see some federal relief that could
be put toward the CWD struggle, but no one knows at this point
whether federal assistance will arrive.

“CWD certainly contributed to this. In our current year, with
special legislation for $4 million, we received $2 million up front
and now we’re going back to the Joint Finance Committee for the
next $2 million,” Polasek said.

The Legislature didn’t give the DNR any new money to make up
that $4 million; legislators simply authorized the DNR to shift up
to $3 million from the crop damage fund (fueled by fees from bonus
tags) and $1 million shifted over from the DNR’s fish and wildlife
account. However, the Legislature gave that money to the DNR in two
parts requiring the agency to come back with an update on the CWD
effort before it could latch onto the second $2 million.

However, that $4 million won’t go far in this CWD effort, not to
mention encroaching shortfalls in the DNR’s regular budget.

“Clearly, it would be great to think we could get GPR money, but
with state in a $1.5 billion deficit in the general fund, even
though this is a statewide problem, the timing is not real good,”
Polasek said. “We can also expect ramifications on the economy,
depending on how hunters react (to CWD concerns). This could be
pretty tough. I don’t see any general fund dollars on the horizon.
It’s going to come down to the state’s hunters, fishermen and
trappers.”

Just conducting the statewide deer sampling effort this fall the
500 deer per county outside of the CWD zones and all of the deer
within the zones will require a load of cash itself.

“We’re looking at potentially 50,000 samples. We can do 30,000
of those tests at our newly updated diagnostic lab and that will
cost us just $5 per sample because the DNR kicked in $1 million up
front to get the lab up and running, so we’ve kind of prepaid for
those samples. That’s $150,000. Plus $25 per sample for the
remaining 20,000 samples that’s $500,000. That’s $650,000 right
there,” Polasek said. “And we have rental on five regional
processing centers, cold storage rental space to store carcasses
until they can be disposed of, $395,000 for processing samples not
including trucking costs and some of this stuff we just don’t know
yet.

“Our current projection is $12.7 million (for CWD); we will be
financing that with $4 million from the special bill and internally
by reallocating $4.7 million from wildlife, research, wardens, and
education. So, that’s $8.7 million, and we still need a final $4
million just for CWD. A lot is dependent on disposal costs and how
we ultimately end up getting rid of 50,000 carcasses and samples.
The most expensive is incineration. We would like to store
carcasses, get back test results, then put the negative carcasses
in a landfill. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper.”

It costs about $98 to incinerate one deer carcass. The DNR also
has found out that Dane County will allow the agency to place
negative carcasses in the county landfill. Officials have tossed
around the idea of building its own landfill on DNR property, but
Polasek said that idea is “way downrange.”

“We will have to come up with at least $5 million and probably
more than that just to cover CWD spending. Then, by the time we get
to the end of our normal financial cycle, we’re already in the red.
We were down $6 million before CWD came along.”

Throw in reduced license sales (about 22-percent down from last
year as of last week) because of CWD concerns and the picture
becomes more bleak.

“For every 5-percent decline in license sales, I’m looking at a
$1 million loss in revenue to the fish and wildlife account. Even
at a 20-percent decline, we’re looking at a $4 million decline per
year,” he said.

Decisions will have to be made soon. Polasek said the budget
package has to be ready for legislators by January. This issue will
take on steam beginning Oct. 18, when Polasek and DNR secretary
Darrell Bazzell meet with the Conservation Congress executive
council in Stevens Point to review the budget situation.

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