DNR looks to balance Game and Fish Fund

St. Cloud, Minn. – The DNR will consider raising fees for
fishing licenses as a way to help offset an imbalance in
expenditures from the Game and Fish Fund.

Agency officials are in the early stages of crafting a report to
the Legislature that will examine the imbalance and recommend both
short- and long-term solutions to correct the problem, which was
discussed at roundtable meetings last weekend.

The DNR Budgetary Oversight Committee in the past expressed
concern over the matter, which stems from fisheries programs
spending more than they’re bringing in – to the detriment, some
say, of hunting programs.

The DNR is exploring a license fee increase, said Dave Schad,
director of the agency’s Fish and Wildlife Division, but doesn’t
want that to become a barrier to participation.

“(We have a) real concern that we can’t just keep raising fees
on hunters and anglers and expect to fund conservation on their
backs, like we have in the past,” he said.

Still, that option is on the table as the agency seeks to
balance spending from the fund.

In fiscal year 2004-05, fisheries spending was 106.2 percent of
the revenue it brought in, while hunting spending was 86 percent of
what it brought in. In ‘06-’07, the gap was nearly 26 percent. The
gap’s about 11 percent in ‘08-’09.

The imbalance is driven in part by increased revenue from deer
licenses, particularly all-season licenses, and because the funding
sources for the agency’s Wildlife Division are more diverse, Schad
said.

“We’re looking at some combination of increased revenue either
from angler license fees or additional permits, shifts in funding
to other funding sources, or program reductions to come up with
about a $4 million (gap),” he said.

The DNR has done modeling to try to predict the effect of
increasing fishing license fees. At the current cost of $17 for a
regular license, about 400,000 anglers buy one and generate about
$7 million. Historically, there’s a drop in participation when fees
increase, Schad said.

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association has been a leading critic
of the imbalance, but wants to help rectify the problem, said Mark
Johnson, executive director of the group. He said increased
attention to recruitment and marketing of anglers would help.

“From a fishing standpoint, we are losing people,” Johnson said.
“And I think that raising emphasis on fishing recruitment is
paramount to making this imbalance go away.”

The DNR last year began a billboard campaign targeted at
fishing, and also did a marketing campaign aimed at lapsed anglers.
Those efforts will continue, Schad said.

In the future

Fees are likely to be a smaller part of conservation funding in
the future, said Mark Holsten, DNR commissioner.

The population is aging, and by 2020 there will be more senior
citizens than children, he said. As the face of the state changes
there will be changes in the number of people buying fishing and
hunting licenses, and even more pressure to fund priorities other
than conservation. In 2000, the state spent $4.56 per resident on
natural resources. In 2007, that dropped to $2.85 per resident,
Holsten said.

“And we haven’t yet hit the critical mass of what’s about to
occur to our budgets in relationship to healthcare costs,” he
said.

Fees will be part of the funding scheme in the future, but other
creative solutions are needed, Holsten said.

“Not to demoralize anybody, but it’s not enough to value natural
resources anymore,” he said. “It’s not enough to value it in our
hearts; we’re going to have to get out and do something a little
bit more. We’re going to have to do something a little bit
differentŠ

“We’re going to have to look at creative solutions beyond
license fees to be the conservation funding mechanism. Dedicated
funding is that first step.”

Legislators who attended the roundtable said the Legislature
would take up dedicated funding early in the next session, which
begins Feb. 12.

Watch for a complete report on biofuels, a main topic at this
year’s roundtable, in next week’s Outdoor News.

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