MI: Bill would spell out how turkey funds used

Lansing – Proposed legislation would expand the purposes for which the DNR must use part of the money hunters pay for turkey licenses, and require the agency report annually on its use of those funds.

But Senate Bill 412, sponsored by Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, likely won't restrict use of the funds quite as much as in its original form.

The Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association, which had first sought the legislation, wanted it focused specifically on state-owned lands.

Another conservation group, the Michigan Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, saw potential trouble with that approach.

"I got wind of it, saw the original language, and said ‘whoa,' " NWTF Michigan president Tony Snyder, of Battle Creek, told Michigan Outdoor News. He got together with MWTHA's Jim Maturen and staff from Sen. Booher's office, and the result was new language that is less iron-clad.

Turkey hunters pay $15 for a resident hunting license, $69 for a nonresident tag. Resident seniors get a $4 license. And everybody who applies for a drawing-awarded license, which includes the majority of spring hunters, pays $4.

The share that goes into the Wild Turkey Fund, according to the Legislative Analysis office, is $9.50 from a resident license, $50 from a nonresident tag, $1 from a senior license, and up to $3 from any license lottery application fee.

Under the originally proposed legislation, the fund also would have to be used to create and manage wild turkey habitat on state-owned land, annual wild turkey population surveys, and annual random disease testing in turkey country. Habitat work funding would be as even as possible on a per-acre basis.

Neither form would raise more money for turkeys, nor increase license fees. It simply would spell out in more detail how DNR managers could – and must – use the money, and require them to account for it to the Legislature.

Fiscal analysis of the bill found the DNR's earmarked Wild Turkey Fund appropriation for fiscal year 2011-12 to be $1.3 million.

In a September 2010 article on the MWTHA website, Maturen said the Wild Turkey Fund was created in 1977 with revenue from the turkey-hunting license, to be used for scientific research, turkey surveys, and turkey management.

Turkeys, he noted, need specific habitat elements, including trees, shrubs, and grass, the latter settings growing insects, seeds, and other important foods for young turkeys.

When large stands of mast-producing hardwoods still didn't hold large numbers of turkeys, Maturen said he and others asked why grassy openings weren't part of habitat work. He said the reply was a shortage of funds – and, "That is exactly what the turkey fund was established for," he said.

He said the DNR told landowners to put 5 percent of their land into grassy openings for best turkey conditions – but didn't do it on its own state lands.

Maturen said when the DNR Wildlife Division presented expenditures for 2010, about 86 percent of the $1,693,000 total was allocated to southern Lower Michigan state game areas, and just 14 percent to the much larger holdings of state forests in northern Michigan.

Maturen called southern Lower Michigan "one huge tract of wild turkey habitat with its agriculture and woodlots, controlled by private landowners," while the northern turkey range suffers for its lack of openings.

Booher's Senate district stretches across much of northern Lower Michigan's wooded turkey range: Benzie, Clare, Kalkaska, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee, Mecosta, Missaukee, Osceola, Roscommon, and Wexford counties.

The NWTF chapter, which had not been part of the original Booher-bill push for tighter ear-marking, saw the need for more flexibility within it, Snyder said. Its input resulted in language that would allow the money to be used on state game area, state forest, national forest, or private lands, where appropriate and needed.

"We wanted to extend it to all potential turkey habitat," he said, "and not on a per-acre basis (just to) to state land. Not all state land has the potential to be turkey habitat."

He offered state holdings in downtown Detroit and winter-lashed Baraga County of examples where an even per-acre approach would waste funds.

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