WWA makes its pitch for stamp spending

Editor

Sturgeon Bay, Wis. The Natural Resources Board (NRB) recently
took no action on a Wisconsin Waterfowl Association (WWA) request
to force the DNR to follow “conditions” listed by WWA if a license
fee hike is approved.

WWA executive director Jeff Nania, of Portage, appeared on the
NRB’s agenda Sept. 22 under the “public appearance” section of the
meeting. Because of that, the board was not required to take action
on Nania’s request, but later, NRB chairman Gerry O’Brien, of
Stevens Point, said Nania, or any group, could attend future
meetings to continue talking about fee increases and how the DNR
spends license fee money and stamp money.

Nania is concerned that, because of the current budget situation
and CWD efforts, the DNR is using duck stamp money for general
wetland or wildlife programs, instead of using that money to either
buy wetlands or restore wetlands the state already owns.

Nania told board members the WWA supports a license fee
increase, but the organization also wants to make sure any new
money coming into the DNR gets used in a meaningful way. Nania gave
board members a list of areas where the WWA believes that money
should go first.

“One reason a full fee increase didn’t pass last time around is
because there was not enough support from local conservation groups
who were asking whether the DNR is fiscally responsible,” Nania
said.

Nania said the WWA’s top priority is to make sure the money from
any fee increase goes directly to the cost of field staff and field
work not to Madison.

He also noted that the DNR has bought a lot of land the past few
years. The WWA wants the DNR to create, update, and maintain an
internet site that tells sportsmen where this land is located.

Nania listed seven more items the WWA wants the DNR to do,
including making it easier for conservation groups to get permits
for habitat restoration projects, reducing the cost of those
permits, and providing sportsmen with a reconciliation on all stamp
funds, including turkey, pheasant, duck, inland trout, and Great
Lakes fish.

At least one other sportsman would like to see those stamp funds
reconciled. Dan Flaherty, of La Crosse, is a former NRB member and
is an avid trout fisherman. Flaherty also is known as the father of
the Wisconsin trout stamp. He pushed for the creation of that stamp
beginning in 1975. It was implemented in 1977.

Flaherty’s take on trout

“The law was not as specific as it should have been when it was
written,” Flaherty said. “The DNR told us that all of the net stamp
money would be used for habitat improvement, not for hatchery trout
or any other part of cold-water management program. They also told
us that the traditional part of regular fishing license that was
used for cold-water would continue to be used for that purpose.

“Our concern was that there would be tight budgets and the DNR
would come around and say it was short of money that it can’t give
any general license money for that original purpose, that it can
only use trout stamp money for all cold-water programs,” he
said.

“It didn’t take more than a couple of budgets for them to be
short, so I continually harass the DNR secretary to remind them of
their original commitment,” Flaherty said. “I’ve been doing that
ever since. They give me the assurance every year, but I’m never
quite sure of that. They tell me trout stamp goes to habitat
improvement, but we’re never sure just how it’s spent. We’ve asked
for audits, but haven’t gotten any.

“The net effect is we’re not getting the fair amount because the
DNR is always short of regular funds, so they nip away at
segregated funds,” he said.

“I can’t tell you what they do with duck stamp money, but I can
tell you this regarding the patron license theoretically, $7.25
should be going to the trout stamp fund, but that doesn’t happen.
Our fears back in 1975 were well founded.

“They’re using that money for DNR purposes, but not for the
purposes the stamps were created for,” he said.

Wild turkey stamp

Charlie Burke, of Westby, is chairman of the Wisconsin Chapter
of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), and he worked on
creating the state turkey stamp program.

“The DNR was never in favor of segregated turkey stamps they
didn’t want any more restricted stamp money,” Burke said. “The
state chapter, not the national group, prompted them to reconsider,
and they did, but the language on how the stamp money can be
utilized is a little more general than we like, but, at the time,
it was the only way we could get (the stamp) through.

“For example, the administration can tap the turkey stamp fund
for the administrative cost of implementing the turkey program (can
include administrative funding),” he said. “A healthy part of
turkey stamp fund goes to pay administrative fees. But, the intent
of the stamp was to create a pool of money to benefit private land
management. In the compromise that occurred, there was more
language added to broaden the DNR’s ability to fund other
programs.

“Our concern today is that the turkey stamp money is used to
replace the money the DNR used to use to for turkey projects.
Instead of being additive, it replaces the funds the DNR had
allotted wildlife managers to use to manage state properties, so
we’re not doing any more work than we were before,” he said.

“That’s been frustrating, but you have to temper that with the
DNR being after license fee increases for years, without being
successful, so there was attrition.”

Burke said Wisconsin NWTF raises about $333,000 in the state
each year, in addition to the stamp money, through banquets and
other fundraisers.

“We try to tie that money to (projects requiring) stamp money.
That’s one way to ensure that some stamp money goes to specific
projects around the state.

“I have never had a case where we felt there was a mismanagement
of the turkey stamp funds, but there has been an erosion of
existing funding where stamp dollars now go to replace dollars the
DNR had historically funded through the fish and wildlife account,”
Burke said.

Stamp funds

DNR budget analyst Joe Polasek reviewed the stamp funds for
Wisconsin Outdoor News. He said the DNR has to make some
assumptions when crediting stamp money to each fund from the
conservation patron license. Because the patron license is sold at
a discounted rate, the stamp funds do not receive the entire $5.25,
$7, or $7.25 that are paid by sportsmen buying individual licenses.
Those stamps are included in the patron license, so the DNR has to
estimate how many license buyers would have bought those stamps
individually, then credit a portion of the full stamp value to that
particular fund.

“We assume 50 percent of the patron buyers would have bought
each stamp,” Polasek said.

With about 84,000 patron licenses sold last year, the DNR
“assumed” that about 42,000 patron buyers would have bought
individual state duck stamps. From those 42,000 “assumed” patrons,
the DNR credited the duck stamp fund with $147,600, or about $3.50
for each stamp.

The state also sold 56,400 individual stamps last year at $7 per
stamp, which generated $386,000 in cash. Both stamps together
brought in $533,600 from 98,400 hunters.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wisconsin
hunters bought 72,772 federal waterfowl stamps in 2002. The agency
did not have figures for the 2003 sales, but said about 2.9 percent
of the federal stamps sold in Wisconsin are sold to nonhunters or
collectors.

“We’re going to sit down and talk with Jeff (Nania) and walk
through some of this stuff with those guys. The same concerns exist
with the Great Lakes guys and inland trout guys,” Polasek said.

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