Post-session: F&W sees cuts

St. Paul – The DNR Fish and Wildlife Division’s slice of the
state General Fund pie just got smaller, but, given the state of
budget affairs, some officials are calling the outcome of the
recent legislative session a success for the division, the vast
majority of whose funding comes from the sale of hunting, fishing,
and trapping licenses.

Dave Schad, director of the Fish and Wildlife Division, said
further cuts could occur as Gov. Tim Pawlenty balances the state
budget by “unallotment,” but that there’s little left to trim.

“Department-wide, there could be a significant impact, but
there’s not much to give in our division,” Schad said.

The state’s budget deficit for the coming year was estimated to
be nearly $5 billion.

In an email last week to staff, Schad indicated the division
would see annual General Fund reductions the next two years of
about $2 million. The DNR’s web site indicates General Fund revenue
during the last biennium was about $6.8 million, or about 3.7
percent of the division’s budget. Total Fish and Wildlife budgeted
expenditures for the 2008-09 cycle were about $181 million, of
which 74 percent came from the Game and Fish Fund (hunting and
fishing licenses).

While the division will see a funding reduction during the next
few years – and there remain other cuts that could be realized in
the near future – Schad said losses were offset to a degree by
other funding initiatives.

For example, Schad said, the Legislature granted the division
$600,000 each year for “wildlife health.” That will pay for such
things as the agency’s response to bovine tuberculosis in the deer
herd, CWD testing, and other health concerns in fish and wildlife,
he said.

Additionally, the division will receive $220,000 each year for
wolf management. Recently, the species was removed from federal
protection, allowing states such as Minnesota, Michigan, and
Wisconsin – and Indian tribes – to manage their wolves. Schad said
the state wishes to develop an annual wolf survey and develop a
cost-share plan with federal officials to deal with depredating
wolves. Funding also will come from the state’s non-game account
and state lottery proceeds.

Finally, the Legislature authorized the division to spend up to
$285,000 on walleye stocking, with the funding coming from the
newly created “walleye stamp,” a $5 optional purchase for anglers.
Schad said that dollar amount was based on an anticipated stamp
purchase rate of 5 percent; however, until now, only about 1
percent of license buyers have opted to purchase the stamp, which
would mean an annual collection of less than $100,000.

That money could be spent on things like hatchery costs,
researching new approaches to stocking walleyes, and purchasing
fish from private vendors.

“The bottom line is we have approximately $500,000 less per year
available to us in the next two years than we have had for the
current biennium, we need to absorb increased operating expenses
within our current budget, and we may see additional General Fund
reductions,” Schad said in the email.

Schad said division staffing isn’t likely to improve during the
coming two years, based on available funding.

Currently, the division has about 25 unfilled positions. Hiring
will be on hold and “we’ll continue to get smaller during the next
biennium,” he said, adding the total “full-time equivalent”
vacancies will reach about 40 by 2011. Most of that will be
attributable to retirements and the hiring freeze.

At the same time, the division’s workers likely will have more
on their platter, thanks to the “Legacy bill,” which addressed
constitutional amendment spending.

He said division employees will review some of the projects
being undertaken by other groups. Pheasants Forever, for example,
will be purchasing lands for state wildlife management areas, and
the DNR will review the potential purchases to “make sure they’re a
good fit for the WMA program,” Schad said. That’s part of the $14
million approved for acquisition and WMA management.

The DNR also will play a large role in the $4 million
Conservation Partners Grants Program.

Schad said employees will track the time spent working on these
new programs to see how much time it takes to get projects “on the
ground,” and how they affect other division activities.

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