Stevens Point, Wis. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
and the Executive Council of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress
talked turkey here at their first meeting of the year.
The “stuffing and giblets” will involve license increases for
state outdoorsmen, something the Executive Council isn’t real happy
about, but members agree is necessary, especially if the state is
willing to find alternate ways to fund the DNR. Scott Hassett, new
secretary of the DNR, introduced himself to the council and
discussed the DNR’s fiscal situation and answered questions.
Hassett, 52, had been on the job for only five days when he met
with the council. He said although there are serious budget issues
in the state, Gov. Jim Doyle will be a strong supporter of
environmental protection and natural resource programs. The
governor, he said, will do all he can to support hunting, fishing
and trapping programs.
“However, the governor will be making tough budget decisions
now,” Hassett said. “This will not be easy, but we will deal with
it now so it will be easier later.”
The DNR is facing a potential $40 million deficit in its Fish
and Wildlife Account by 2005. Hassett told the Congress that Doyle
won’t support an outright tax or fee increase just to balance the
current budget deficit, but Hassett said Doyle made it clear he
will support fee increases if the fee has not been raised in some
time, or if the current fee is not enough to support program
Hunting and fishing license fees are normally increased every
four years, but have not been increased in the last seven years. In
addition, the discovery of CWD in the wild deer herd has drained
fish and wildlife revenues.
Dick Koerner, Executive Council member from Neenah, told Hassett
the DNR should not expect hunters, fishermen, and trappers alone to
pay for the DNR’s efforts on CWD.
“It is everybody’s concern and everybody should be paying for
the efforts,” Koerner said.
Hassett said he agreed with Koerner, and added that Doyle
recognizes that the situation in DNR is unique in needing a license
increase. Hassett said he’d look at increases in license fees that
would be comparable to other states.
Following Hassett’s meeting with the Council, both he and Doyle
indicated the following week that the DNR will put a license
increase in the proposed budget for 2003-05. That budget is
expected to be unveiled by Doyle on Feb. 18. If a DNR license fee
hike is included in the new budget, it would not go into effect
until the new license cycle that will start in March of 2004.
The Conservation Congress has formed an alternative funding
coalition which is proposing several options for solving the DNR’s
long-range Fish and Wildlife Account deficit. Hassett told the
Congress he’s committed to work with the Executive Council and the
Alternative Funding Coalition to make funding for natural resources
stable for the long-term.
Dunn County delegate and Executive Council member Russ Hitz said
the Alternative Funding Coalition has looked at gas tax money (from
outboard fuel sales) and tribal gaming money as constant sources of
cash flow to the DNR.
Hassett cautioned that alternative funding will probably not be
a possibility until the 2005-07 biennium. Hassett said other state
agencies also are looking at the gas tax revenues. Doyle has
already denied the DNR access to gas tax funds because the
Department of Transportation also needs that money for its
“We are looking for creative ideas, and so are other states,”
Hitz told the council that all jobs and activities in Wisconsin
depend on natural resources.
“You have three building blocks that support the state of
Wisconsin,” Hitz said. “That’s water, air and earth. There is
nothing that we do in life that does not depend on those three
things.” He asked the council to support the coalition’s
recommendation for a DNR license fee hike that would fully fund the
DNR for the next two years, even if it means a fee increase in the
range of 28 to 30 percent.
The concept of full funding would mean that the DNR would not
have to cut back on any of its current fish, wildlife or law
enforcement programs. Seven years ago the Congress backed a
recommendation for a license fee increase, based on the fact that
the state would look for alternate funding for natural resources.
The effort came close, including a bill that would have earmarked a
small portion of the sales tax for conservation purposes, but
alternate funding was not passed.
The concept was, however, a beginning, as then-Gov. Thompson
inserted $2.5 million of tribal gaming revenue into the DNR
“We may not get everything in this budget, but if we work with
people who really care about the environment and this state, maybe
over the next four years it will happen,” Hitz said.
The alternative funding proposal is not final, but tentatively
calls for an increase in hunting and fishing license fees, combined
with alternative fees such as tribal gaming revenues.
Hitz said currently the DNR receives money from DOT gasoline
taxes based on 50 gallons per registered motorboat. But because
motors and boats have increased in size, this is no longer enough
for what’s used for boating.
“I know some of these alternatives are not now on the table, but
we want a chance to work with the Legislature and get a fair
share,” Hitz said. “Tourism brings in over $900 million from people
visiting and enjoying natural resources and we don’t get any
contribution from the businesses that benefit.”
Hitz cited resorts and restaurants and bars that receive
millions in income from people who come into the state to boat,
ski, and enjoy the natural resources, but those businesses do not
contribute funding to DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Account. Hitz said
the dollar amounts of license fee increases are not final in the
alternative funding proposal, but it’s a general concept that would
allow the DNR to be fully funded and continue with its current
The proposal generated a good deal of discussion among the
council. Some members are concerned over the amount of the license
increase. Council member Bill Murphy, of Portage, urged support of
the general concept while the coalition worked out the details
Edgar Harvey, Jr., Congress vice chairman, said he didn’t think
the public would support a license fee increase if it were in the
vicinity of 30 percent.
The discovery of CWD in Wisconsin is exactly the reason why the
DNR needs to receive alternative revenues, provided by the general
public, Harvey said.
Hitz asked for support from the council to be able to work with
the DNR and Doyle’s office to iron out more details.
The council voted 13 to 7 to support the proposal by Hitz to
work for a license increase and alternative funding for DNR.