Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

DNR director outlines spending, funding cuts

By Bill
Parker

Editor

Lansing – DNR Director Rebecca Humphries recently took time to
sit down with Michigan Outdoor News for an exclusive interview. In
the first half of that interview, published in the last edition of
MON, the interview focused on the financial crunch facing the DNR
and the proposed license fee increase. The most telling fact she
revealed is that it would take a license fee increase of between $5
and $8 to maintain the status quo at the DNR and that the license
fee proposal submitted to the NRC was never intended to be
implemented as is. It was negotiable from the start.

In this week’s portion of the interview, Humphries chimes in a
little more on the financial situation; she explains how Game and
Fish Fund money is spent, what types of cuts have been made within
the DNR, how the apprentice license program worked last fall, and
what her thoughts are on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s
announcement that it would delist the grey wolf in the Great Lakes
region and turn management over to the respective states.

MON: Are the other divisions within the DNR – Parks, Law
Enforcement, etc. – suffering too?

Humphries: ‘Well, yes. All the divisions really work off of the
Fish and Game Fund and Forest Development Fund, and then parks fees
are the last one. There are others like snowmobile fees and all the
other smaller funds, but those are the big ones. Parks and Rec, as
you well know, we haven’t had any general fund assistance there in
three years and we’re struggling to maintain 97 state parks off
those use fees.

‘We weren’t designed as KOAs. Our state park system is designed
much like the national park system. It was very special places in
Michigan that we devoted to be state parks, then we built the
infrastructure to get people there to see these special places. It
wasn’t designed as a commercial operation, so to live solely off of
revenue, it’s not designed to operate that way.

‘We’re holding our own right now, but ultimately we’ve got to
find something to replace the general funds. To operate off just
user fees is not going to get us what we need to really support the
infrastructure. Either that, or we’ll be looking at fewer parks and
we’ll have to seriously look at our land holdings and how we’re
going to manage those down the road.’

MON: What are some of the cuts that have been made in the
department, so far.

Humphries: ‘To give you an idea, overall, when I joined the
department in 1981, in the Wildlife Division we had just under 250
employees. They’re down around 170 right now. That’s pretty
consistent across the board. We’re about two-thirds the size we
were, really, even 10 to 15 years ago. You don’t have to go that
far back. We’ve chopped about a third of our staff.

‘We use technology now to do a lot of the stuff that we used to
shuffle through papers. We’ve eliminated whole supervisory levels,
and we’ve consolidated. Where we used to have 14 districts in the
state, Wildlife Division is down to eight management units and
they’re saying that if we get much smaller we’re probably going to
have to consolidate further. Likewise, the Forest Management
Division has done the same thing. We’ve combined whole divisions.
At one time we had a Parks Division and a Recreation Division and
they used to be separate, but we’ve combined them. Fire Division
and Forest Management have been combined.

‘We also share employees a lot more than we used to. Where we
used to hire seasonal park rangers and work them throughout the
camping season then lay them off, now those people are hired by
Wildlife Division to continue to work deer check stations. We’re
not paying them unemployment and they’re employed longer during the
course of the year.

‘But we’re at that point where our ability to really collect
harvest information at that local level (is difficult). To be able
to do the management to the scale people would like is very
difficult without the ability to hire seasonals and other folks and
just having bodies in the field. I think when you really look at
that, people realize.

‘The response time for conservation officers is nowhere near
what it used to be. We’re at about all-time lows right now in terms
of the the number of conservation officers.

‘We wind up trying to use seasonal workers for programs like the
Hunter Access Program. We’ve been using short-term workers and
seasonal workers because we just don’t have nearly the number of
field employees we used to. But some of those programs need a
little more time and attention

‘We run our hunter safety program with a few core staff and all
volunteers – thank God we have them. People that teach hunter’s
safety are just a godsend to us. Without those folks stepping up
and doing that volunteer effort we wouldn’t have anywhere near
enough capacity to get people through hunter safety in this
state.

‘Luckily, we’ve been able to survive through economizing and
also partnerships. The conservation community has stepped up and we
have great partnerships. All you have to look at is what we’ve done
for wetlands restoration. Between DU and Pheasants Forever and
local conservancy groups and the rest, we’ve been able to really
come up and do a great job of getting additional federal dollars by
pooling all those partnership dollars and in-kind contributions
together. U.P. deer yard work is another example. We’ve pulled a
lot of groups together to really focus on that.’

MON: What are some of the cuts that will take place without a
license fee increase?

Humphries: ‘Well, certainly there will be personnel costs, so
things like biologists, conservation officers, technicians, and
census people who collect biological information – everything from
deer check stations to creel census work. Some of our research
efforts, we’ll have to cut back on. Some folks might think, ‘Why do
we need to do research?’ Well, when it comes down to a lawsuit we
better have good solid information in terms of what we’re doing to
be able to justify the hunting seasons. Every year, we seem to face
more and more challenges through the legal system, sometimes from
the hunters themselves.’

MON: How much hunting, fishing, and trapping license money is
used on other things not specifically related to hunting and
fishing, like OVR trail maintenance, snowmobile trails, things like
that?

Humphries: ‘None, for those type of things. Some of the things
license money is used for that people might not think of initially
would be some of the research efforts, some of the overall habitat
issues. For example, we’ve used turkey money at times to block in
southern Michigan game areas. Some people have been very critical
of this because they feel it might not benefit turkeys directly as
much as some of the other species out there. Yet, our turkey
hunting in southern Michigan has been phenomenal and blocking in
those southern Michigan game areas is appropriate for some of those
acquisition dollars.

‘We are under federal requirements for Game and Fish (license)
dollars that it can only be used for programs that are appropriate
by the game and fish agency for that intended purpose. We can’t use
Fish and Game dollars, for instance, to enforce ORV regulations on
state game area land or state forests. Federal auditors then come
in here and say, ‘If you have ORV damage, you need to go back and
use ORV dollars or some other funding source like General Fund or
whatever you’ve got.’ But sportsmen’s dollars is not an appropriate
use of those funds.’

‘Likewise, some of the general law enforcement work, like when a
conservation officer backs up a sheriff’s deputy on, say a domestic
dispute at night. We can’t spend Game and Fish dollars for that.
That (money) has to come out of other revenue sources. Generally
it’s the General Fund. That’s why we’ve been able to maintain some
basic General Fund dollars for law enforcement, wildfire
suppression, and disease work.’

MON: Where do we stand with the current land consolidation
strategy?

Humphries: ‘We’re about halfway through our big land
consolidation effort, which was really an effort to get us to look
strategically at our land holdings. We can’t hold everything,
because we don’t have enough money to buy the inholdings. So how do
we (manage) some of those outlying parcels – some of which are nice
pieces of property but are not within our dedicated boundaries? How
do we convert those into money to buy the inholdings to complete
project areas?

‘We’ve been going county by county and reviewing project
boundaries and reviewing all the parcels. By and large, it’s gone
pretty well. There are some problem spots like Oakland County with
the Nike site where people don’t care that hunters bought it and
they don’t care that it’s not open to hunting; they just want it as
open space. What we’re trading out is that it’s nice to have that
property, that’s great, it’s just that a portion of the funding (to
purchase it) came from hunting and fishing license fees. Should we
keep that outlying parcel as a nice open space? Or, should we sell
it, work with a local unit of government for a portion of it if
they want a park and let them buy it at fair market value, then
trade that revenue in for buying inholdings within the recreation
area?’

MON: Are there inholdings available?

Humphries: ‘Yes, there are. Most of our recreation and park
areas have some inholdings. We have very few that are fully
completed, especially the rec areas.’

MON: Over the years a lot has been done to promote women in the
outdoors and children in the outdoors. Are there any kinds of
programs to encourage minorities to participate in outdoor
activities?

Humphries: ‘Yes. Actually we have a funded position, that we
fund through MSU and the department, in southeast Michigan. It’s an
MSU Extension position; his name is Gary Williams. We’ve been
working with Gary to look at ways to try to get more urban youths
involved. He’s also been partnering with our faith-based
initiative.

‘The interesting thing is that not only has hunting declined,
but church participation is declining in every county in the
country. The faith-based community is real interested in partnering
with us. They’re trying to build bridges to bring new people into
the church, who wouldn’t have direction otherwise.

‘Morey DeYoung is one of the main people we’ve been working
with. Morey is out of Hudsonville, the Grand Rapids area. He was a
minister of a christian reform church over there and they have a
huge outdoors club. They have about 300 people at their monthly
meetings. They ran a lot of, oh, like fishing clinics for single
parents and hunter safety classes. They have an archery range in
the basement of the church.

‘The first time I went to go talk to the group they put up peg
boards in front of the alter and hung all their deer mounts on it.
Š Morey is now working with a non-profit and working with other
churches to get conservation groups going. He’s been working with
our folks to look at ways that we can tap some urban centers and
faith-based groups to help partner and get more involved.

‘We need to do it, but it’s a struggle because we need mentors.
The key thing is that we need to find people to help bring new
people into the out-of-doors. It almost takes that personal touch
to really learn the skill – to go out with someone who has the
equipment, has the training. Someone to take them under their wing
a little bit. By setting up their partnerships and mentoring
opportunities, we’ll probably be more successful.’

MON: How did the first year of the apprentice license work out.
Did you see any increases in participation?

Humphries: ‘Yup. We wound up increasing our youth sales, not
necessarily adult sales, but youth sales, between lowering the
hunting age and the apprentice (program), by almost 20 percent. So,
a big spike. (Approximately 18,000 apprentice licenses were
sold.)

‘Now we have a big bulge that we have to get through the hunter
safety program. That’s a heads-up for all of us because we don’t
want them to come in as apprentice hunters, then reach obstacles in
going through hunter safety. We want to get them in, get them
involved, and find a way to keep them involved.’

MON: What are your thoughts on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service announcing the delisting of wolves in the Great Lakes
Region?

Humphries: ‘It’s about time, is what I’ve got to say about it.
This is a success story.

‘We seem to be able to pull off listings, but delistings we
struggle with a little bit. I don’t mean the state, but at the
national level in terms of delisting. When populations are
restored, moving them back to state authority there seems to be
some hesitance there; not with the Fish and Wildlife Service, but
clearly with some of the groups that keep challenging the legal
authority on them. The Great Lakes population is restored, the
states involved in it all have management plans, we have great
survey methods. The feds feel very comfortable with it and even
some of the groups who’ve been pretty critical are fairly
supportive. We’re ready and able to take over management and look
forward to it.

‘We’ve been real uncomfortable with some of the decisions that
have been made at the federal level. There have been court
challenges regarding the legal authority for lethal take under
threatened and endangered species acts, There have been very
misinformed decisions, in my opinion, by folks who just don’t
understand that in order to save a population sometimes individual
animals have to be removed. It’s not only wolves. When you look at
Karner blue butterflies or Kirtland’s warblers the same is true.
They (live) in fire-driven habitats and if you don’t manage the
habitat and kill a few of them, you won’t have the population, as a
whole. The same is true with wolves.

‘But we’re anxious. It’s been a long time coming and we’re
anxious to take over management. We’re real pleased.’

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