Budget cuts will hit Forestry, Parks hard

Associate Editor

St. Paul The Minnesota DNR tightened its belt along with other
state departments when Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced how the state
would eliminate about $346 million in spending over the next six
months. The governor’s plan actually eliminated more than $400 in
spending a cushion, of sorts in case funding shortfalls are greater
than expected.

For the DNR, that meant reducing spending by about $3.8 million,
or 4 percent of its General Fund appropriations, according to Brad
Moore, DNR assistant commissioner for operations.

“The cuts are significant, but we want to maintain our focus on
field operations and our core mission,” he said.

Taking the brunt of the funding cuts were those divisions of the
DNR most dependent on General Funds, including Forestry ($1.3
million), and Parks and Recreation ($900,000).

Reductions were less noticeable in divisions that receive
funding from hunting and fishing license fees.

The Fisheries Division will receive about $1,000 less than
expected. Wildlife will receive about $44,000 less. And Enforcement
must cut spending by about $110,000.

For Wildlife, loss of funding means prescribed burns will
decrease by about 2,000 acres.

A recruitment position will be eliminated in Enforcement. Moore
said he didn’t anticipate conservation officer vacancies would be
filled any time soon. Already, classes for CO recruits have been
canceled.

Forestry cuts will immediately be noticeable. They include:

Seasonal closure of 25 percent (500 miles) of state forest
roads. That will reduce maintenance costs on those roads. The roads
will be open for forest management activities, but likely those who
use the forests will find they’ll need to walk more than usual.

State Forestry officials won’t be able to work as closely with
private landowners on forestry management and related issues. Those
state foresters also won’t be able to take part in some of the
“extras,” such as local Arbor Day activities, Moore said.

Moore said the funding reductions will mean less “incidental”
law enforcement, especially on all-terrain vehicle trails. Some
Forestry officials in the past have received training and provided
some law enforcement on ATV trails.

Funding reductions for the Parks and Recreation Department could
mean more “rustic” facilities at state parks.

Moore said the closure of 24 state parks could continue through
June, though there’s interest from legislators and new DNR
Commissioner Gene Merriam to open them by this spring.

The funding reductions also will mean fewer interpretive
centers, a reduction in maintenance, and some unfilled position
vacancies.

Other divisions of the DNR face cuts of their own:

Ecological Services. Cuts totalling about $137,000 will mean,
among other things, a reduction in cooperative lake monitoring, and
less testing of fish for contaminants;

Trails and Waterways. About $63,000 will be cut from operations,
some of which will include cross country ski trails, which appeared
logical due to the state’s largely “snowless” season;

Waters. Less funding for flood reduction will absorb most of the
estimated $431,000 in cuts for the remainder of this biennium. Red
River remediation efforts also will be slowed.

Lands and Minerals. The loss of about $257,000 in funding will
affect mineral research and equipment purchases, Moore said.

Operations support. Professional positions will be eliminated in
the commissioner’s office and the human resources office, Moore
said. Those and other cuts will reduce spending by about
$580,000.

Moore said DNR officials realized months ago the economic
forecast meant cuts ahead; thus, they planned accordingly.

“The managers were conservative on hiring; they held some (job)
openings,” he said. “They’re trying to manage through vacancies to
avoid layoffs this time around and so they’re aren’t so many when
cuts come around the next biennium,” he said.

During that two-year time period, from July 2003 through June of
2005, state government anticipates a funding shortage of more than
$4 billion. For the DNR, it could mean additional cuts of 10 to 20
percent.

“More cuts are coming down the line and they’re going to be
major,” he said. “We’ll have to rethink the way we do business in a
number of areas.”

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