DNR seeks budget hike of $62 million

By Tim Eisele Correspondent

Green Bay, Wis. – The Natural Resources Board approved a budget
request for the DNR that calls for spending $569.9 million for
2007-08 and $570.5 million for 2008-09. This is an increase of $62
million over the 2005-07 budget.

Joe Polasek, DNR management and budget director, said the budget
reflects the state’s fiscal situation and abides by the Department
of Administration’s budget guidance, with only 3 percent growth
while reducing DNR staff by 1.75 full time-equivalent
positions.

‘The proposal does not include any hunting or fishing license
fee increases, nor does it include any park or camping fee
increases,’ Polasek said.

The budget is just a ‘wish list’ at this point that the NRB
reviewed and approved with modifications at its Sept. 27 meeting.
The budget now goes to the DOA, which will combine all state
requests and then mold the budget based on direction from either
whomever is elected governor in November. The governor will then
present the budget in early 2007, after which it goes to the
Legislature, which hammers out a final budget, including
legislators’ desires for any increases or decreases in license
fees, which must then be signed by the governor. The governor may
veto, but not add to, budget provisions.

Some of the key budget issues include:

Trying to stem the spread of invasive species on land and
water. (The DNR proposal calls for adding limited-term wardens for
24 weeks during the boating season to talk to boaters about of
cleaning their boats.)

Providing increased funding to expand the number of acres open
to the public for fishing, hunting, and other recreation (including
public access grants funded by Managed Forest Law fees paid by
landowners who close their land to public access).

Enhancing Wisconsin’s forest fire-fighting capacity (adding
four full-timers in cooperative fire districts) and funding a state
forest land legacy program of $3 million to buy easements to avoid
fragmentation of large blocks of forest blocks, and allow public
access.

The Conservation Fund, which is composed mostly of revenues from
hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses, plus forestry, parks, ATV,
snowmobile, and boat registration fees and motor boat gas tax,
funds about $221 million of the annual budget, and 1,537 full-time
employee positions.

‘We control all of the dollars within those accounts only for
the purposes intended, and they shall not cross with the general
fund or federal money,’ Polasek said. ‘The DNR has one of the most
complex funding structures of any agency in state government. A lot
of it is due to the fact that we have very strong constituencies in
both areas who want to assure that their money is only used for the
purposes it was intended, and the fees they supported are tied
directly to the programs they want.’

The board eventually approved the budget, but not before it made
several adjustments. The NRB requested to add $8 million (to the $2
million the DNR was already proposing) for the Targeted Runoff
Management Program; requested $800,000 from general purpose
revenues to enhance inner-city environmental and outdoor awareness
education; and specified that the money used to fund the fishing
tournament monitoring program will not come from regular license
fund fees. NRB member Duke Welter, of Eau Claire, said the board
wanted make sure the budget does not subsidize private tournaments
with anglers’ license dollars.

The capital development budget put top priority on completion of
the Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery renovation, followed by
development at Gov. Thompson State Park, construction of the DNR
northern region co-headquarters at Spooner, Phase II of the Wilson
State Nursery expansion, replacement of ranger stations at Tomah,
Whiting, and Prentice, replacement of visitor entrance stations at
Council Grounds, Blue Mounds, and Wildcat Mountain State parks, and
extension of the Hank Aaron State Trail.

Wildlife rules

The board approved modifications to several wildlife rules, one
of which clarifies that site-exposed bait and scent restrictions in
place for trapping apply to all traps, including snares and cable
restraints.

Another clarification is that any trapper who catches or kills a
bobcat, fisher, or otter must use his or her own carcass tag on the
animal.

An additional correction approved by the NRB clarifies
boundaries between wild turkey-hunting zones and bear-hunting zones
in Lincoln County. It is intended to provide consistency between
deer, turkey, and bear zone boundaries by making the boundary on
the turkey (Zones 43 and 41) and bear (Zones A and B) maps to be
the same as the deer unit boundary (Unit 32 and Unit 52).

This means that the north/south boundary between turkey zones 43
and 41 and bear zones A and B will be the same as the deer unit
boundary, or the Wisconsin River from Hwy. 64 north to Hwy. 86,
which crosses the river and intersects with Hwy. 51 and then goes
north to the state line.

Last, the board approved relaxing the rule on identification of
treestands on state-owned land. The DNR had required the name and
address, or DNR customer ID number, be put on treestands on state
lands, and the Assembly Natural Resources Committee questioned why
people had to have their name on a stand when they were in it.

The DNR agreed and relaxed the rule to only be required when the
stand is left in a tree unattended.

Christine Thomas, of Stevens Point, said she had been asked by
the chairman to look into allegations that DNR staff had not
provided all the information to the board for reconsideration of
the wolf management plan.

Thomas said her committee talked to five of six people on the
Agricultural Sub-committee of the Wolf Science Committee and, based
on their comments, the committee believes the DNR staff did not
withhold information, so there was no reason to reconsider the wolf
plan.

Her committee did, however, ask for a report to the full board
on collateral damage from wolves.

Fishing rules

The board approved holding hearings on commercial fishing open
seasons in Lake Michigan for chubs. The proposed rule would repeal
a sunset clause and allow the present rules to continue
indefinitely.

The rules now allow the minimum depth for commercial chub nets
at 45 fathoms from Jan. 16 through April 25. Bill Horns, DNR Great
Lakes specialist, told the board the current regulations have
worked well.

The board heard brief comments from Horns and Mark Maricque, of
the Lake Michigan Commercial Fishing Board, on the status of
harvest limits for all commercial fish species in Wisconsin waters
of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

The use of harvest limits is one of three features of the
management of commercial fishing in the Great Lakes, combined with
limited entry and individual transferable quotas. There are 10
licensed fishermen on Lake Superior and 69 licensed fishermen on
Lake Michigan.

Horns reported:

Lake trout restoration has been a success in Lake Superior.
The population is healthy and naturally reproducing in the Apostle
Islands, and future population growth is expected.

Regarding whitefish in Lake Michigan, Horns said the current
harvest limit of 2.4 million pounds was adopted in 1999, and the
commercial fishing industry has not been able to reach that limit.
The harvest peaked at 1.8 million pounds in 1998. There is concern
about declines in amphipods and how that might affect lake
whitefish, although biologists believe the whitefish population is
healthy and is not recommending a change in the harvest limit.

Yellow perch in Green Bay appear to be recovering following a
decade of poor natural reproduction. The DNR recently increased the
annual harvest limit to 60,000 pounds following four years with a
20,000 pound annual limit. Commercial fishermen already have
approached the DNR requesting a further increase.

The current Lake Michigan bloater chub harvest limit of 3.6
million pounds was adopted by the board in 1991, but has not been
reached by commercial fishermen. The DNR does not believe that the
commercial harvest is the driving force behind the population
decline, or is a threat to recovery.

Rainbow smelt abundance has declined dramatically throughout
Lake Michigan in the past decade. The harvest limit was reduced
from 2.3 million pounds to 1 million pounds in 2000. In 2004, the
board reduced the commercial harvest limit from Green Bay to 25,000
pounds.

White perch proliferated in Green Bay to the point where they
were a nuisance to yellow perch fishermen, then they declined
sharply in 2003.

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