Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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NRB agrees to 5-percent DNR budget reduction

Correspondent

Madison  The Natural Resources Board met via telephone
conference call on Nov. 25, and approved the 5-percent reductions
in proposed state DNR spending for 2003-05.

The reduction was required by the Department of Administration,
per the request of Gov. Scott McCallum, of all state agencies.

The board previously met in September to approve the DNR budget
request, which now goes to the Department of Administration and the
new governor in 2003, and then must receive legislative approval
and pass the governor’s veto pen.

The board’s approval affected mostly General Purpose Revenues
(GPR), derived from state tax collections, and only slightly
impacted segregated fund spending (derived from hunting, fishing
and trapping license fees).

The GPR reductions total $2.1 million and require cutting 17
full-time equivalent positions. Some of the position reductions
would include 1.75 positions in air and waste management, three
positions in enforcement and science, nine positions in water, two
positions in administration and technology, and one position in
customer assistance.

One of the GPR-funded positions would be that of a conservation
warden, though which specific position it will be is not yet
known.

The 5-percent reduction of segregated fund spending totals
$794,200, but only involves one position in administration,
probably a DNR web master.

Even with the reduction in spending, by the end of the biennium
the Fish and Wildlife Account is still projected to be $42 million
in the red. That can’t happen under state budget guidelines, so
somewhere during the budget presentation and approval process the
DNR budget will have to be balanced.

The DNR had earlier considered a hunting and fishing license fee
increase, but did not pursue it as the governor indicated he would
not approve any fee increases.

Steve Miller, DNR division of land administrator, said it’s been
seven years without a license fee increase.

“Costs keep going up and there is only so much that we can do to
absorb them,” Miller said. “Soon something has to go. We’ve tried
to protect positions because it’s hard to get positions through the
legislative process, but you can’t have people sitting around
without operating money to work.”

The DNR hopes that sportsmen won’t want a decline in services
for fisheries, wildlife or law enforcement and will lead the
request for a license fee increase down the road.

DNR secretary Darrell Bazzell said that many resources within
wildlife management have been shifted to fund the fight against
chronic wasting disease, but the shortfall would have been evident
even without CWD.

It has already been reported in WON that:

Revenues declined by $2.4-million as a result of low interest
rates.

The Legislature provided an additional 50-cent cash transaction
fee to licensing agents. That 50-cent fee means the DNR pays an
additional $1 million, and the agency was not allowed to charge
more for licenses to make up that cost.

The Legislature converted 13 conservation wardens from GPR funds
to be supported by segregated funds.

The Legislature also eliminated hunter education class fees. Now
all of the cost of training comes out of the Fish and Wildlife
Account.

License sales associated with deer hunting appear to be down 10
percent. For every 5 percent decline in sales of licenses, the DNR
loses $5 million.

The board adopted a motion during its November conference call
stating that the DNR faces a critical revenue shortfall in a
variety of areas during the coming two-year period. The motion
directs the DNR to investigate working with constituency groups to
evaluate the impact of expenditure reductions and find alternatives
that will minimize the impact of the revenue shortfalls in the
coming biennium.

Joe Polasek, DNR budget director, told the board that the
biennial budget request includes about $2 million for CWD
activities in 2003-05, which assumes that the sampling results this
season don’t find any CWD beyond the current CWD Management
Zone.

He said the DNR hopes to finance CWD efforts with additional
revenues that are not license fee money, such as tribal gaming
money or alternate revenues. There is concern among the hunting
community that it is not fair for hunters to fund the total CWD
program.

Herb Behnke, board member from Shawano, asked how CWD activities
tie into the wildlife management activities, which could be reduced
substantially including projects and personnel in wildlife. He was
concerned that the DNR was abandoning the current wildlife and
fisheries programs by putting large estimates in the CWD-control
efforts.

Bazzell said the DNR intends to go back to the Legislature for
additional money for disposing of deer carcasses.

“In wildlife, CWD has become the priority,” Bazzell said. “About
one-third of our wildlife budget has been reallocated to CWD.
That’s what the Legislature asked us to do, to show that we had
done everything we could to move dollars around within the wildlife
program to fight CWD before coming back to it for more funds.

“It was painful and we hope not to have to do that in future
years.”

Behnke said it would bother him if the DNR gave up wildlife
programs. He said it wouldn’t be easy to go back and pick them up
in later years, and they may lose the programs.

The DNR budget request that now goes to the Department of
Administration for 2003-05 totals a little over $1 billion during
that biennium, which compares to $979.8 million (or an increase of
2 percent) from 2001-03.

Sportsmen will want to keep their eye on the initial budget
proposal that will be issued by Gov.-elect Jim Doyle in early
2003.

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