WI: DNR asks for a $37 million hike in next budget

Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. – The DNR is requesting a budget that
totals $583.4 million for 2011-12, and $583.2 million for
2012-13.

The two-year total is about $37 million more than the two-year
current budget for 2009-11.

The budget was approved by the Natural Resources Board at its
September meeting, but the actual budget likely will change based
on results of the Nov. 2 gubernatorial and legislative
elections.

In addition, the state will begin the new biennium with a $2.5
billion deficit, meaning that expenses have to be cut or revenues
increased. Often those reductions are in functions funded by state
tax revenues, while functions funded by hunting, trapping, and
fishing license fees are more stable.

“This budget is a very restrained budget that reflects the
national economic times that we are experiencing, and Department of
Administration policy guidance,” said Joe Polasek, the DNR’s budget
director. “The budget represents less than 1 percent growth over
the current base year. There are no General Purpose Revenue (taxes)
requests for new money and no hunting, fishing, or trapping license
fee increases, nor any park fee increases.

“The growth that is there is primarily financed by the
Conservation Fund for parks, forests, and law enforcement
operations,” he said.

The DNR will continue to look at making adjustments, and will
keep an eye on deer license sales this fall. Most of the fish,
wildlife, and law enforcement side of the DNR is funded through the
segregated fees (known as the Conservation Fund) that are raised
through the sale of licenses and species stamps.

The budget did not yet include a 10 percent budget reduction of
administrative costs that the Department of Administration
requested. Polasek said this will be done in November.

Some of the new requests include programs to help stem the
spread of invasive species on land and water, improvement of water
quality, dam repair and removal, and operating state parks and
trails.

The DNR’s 2010-11 base budget includes $239 million (43 percent)
in the Conservation Fund, $119 of General Purpose Revenues (GPR, 21
percent), and $77 million (19 percent) in federal funds. The GPR in
1998 was $154 million, showing the substantial decline in state
funding of natural resources from regular tax revenue.

In terms of staffing, the proposed budget would add 1.75
full-time positions. The DNR currently has 2,709 positions, with
1,483 funded by the Conservation Fund. For comparison, in 1994 the
DNR had 3,100 approved positions.

Some of the additions in wildlife management under the new
budget includes one new position for a naturalist at Crex Meadows
Wildlife Area, funded by the Friends of Crex Meadows, and an extra
$150,000 for nuisance wildlife removal, primarily bears and
geese.

The state park budget will include $1.3 million for new
facilities operations, part of which is at the new Governor
Thompson State Park.

Law enforcement will have a new recruit warden class. By the end
of 2012 there could be as many as 53 conservation warden vacancies,
and officials hope to bring in eight to 10 recruits in July 2011
and another dozen in 2012.

The Water Program would include two new positions to help work
with Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, with the money coming
from fees paid by CAFOs.

One other part of the budget is $4 million that would be funded
through bonding for dam repair and removal grants.

NRB member Jane Wiley, of Rib Mountain, proposed adding a
position for a librarian for the Science Services Division, which
has a large research library, but no position to organize and staff
the library. That proposal failed. Some board members said it was a
decision for the DNR to make.

“This budget is not a happy face. We have less and less people
to manage resources and people are getting less and less service
because we have less and less people to deliver that service,” said
NRB member Christine Thomas, of Stevens Point.

The budget does not include any fee increases, meaning the
fisheries and wildlife areas will have to continue to manage with
vacant positions.

The board passed the proposed budget. It goes to the Department
of Administration and then to the new governor, who will come up
with a budget proposal in February. Some capital improvements that
will be in the budget include a replacement of the Southeast Region
headquarters in Milwaukee, rebuilding the Fox River locks at
Montello, and replacing the Flambeau River State Forest
headquarters.

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