Creigh: Budget support for DNR ‘great’

Lansing — More conservation officers in the field and a new fisheries research vessel on Lake Huron are two benefits the hook-and-bullet community will see come out of the state’s fiscal year 2015 executive budget. The Legislature recently approved Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2015 budget request, and support for natural resources was not forgotten. The 2015 fiscal year runs Oct.1 through Sept. 30, 2015.

“Since I’ve been here at the DNR, I really appreciate the support the governor and the Legislature have shown,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh, who took over at the DNR in July 2012. “It’s been nothing short of great support.”

Last month, the DNR wrapped up its first conservation officer academy since 2006-07, when 23 cadets completed the 22-week program. With $3.5 million appropriated from the 2015 budget for more COs, the DNR will hold another academy beginning next January.

“That should get us up to around 240 officers in the field,” Creagh told Michigan Outdoor News. “The academy will likely start in January so they’ll be ready to go into the field in the fall.”

That would be a big increase from the roughly 190 officers who’ve been on the payroll in recent years.

“COs are our front line. They keep us safe and keep poachers out of the woods and off the water,” said Matt Evans, Michigan United Conservation Club’s  legislative affairs manager. “It’s great to know that there will be more COs in the field in the near future.”

The budget calls for spending $2 million on a new fisheries research vessel for Lake Huron. The current vessel, The Chinook, is 67 years old and “eligible for Social Security,” Creagh said. “We call it ‘Patches’ because we’ve had to patch it so many times.”

The new vessel will come complete with the latest technology.

The threat of invasive species also was addressed by the Legislature, to the tune of $5 million. Beach bark disease, emerald ash borers, Eurasian watermilfoil, phragmites, and Asian carp are concerns, and the money is earmarked specifically to target those and other invasive species in Michigan.

“It’s really a quality-of-life issue,” Creagh said. “We want to take a landscape approach on some of these issues rather than hitting them in spots. We’ll become a little more proactive. The DNR, the DEQ, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will all be working together. We want to make sure we’re all on the same road.”

The executive budget will utilize $3.92 million in forestry revenues to expand Michigan’s forest economy, particularly in rural areas, and aligns wildfire funding with private-land fire suppression needs.

“We’ll invest some of that to make sure we have the capacity to respond to fires,” Creagh said. “We’ll look at developing new market strategies for our forest products and turn over some of our timber. We’re cutting about a third of what we’re growing, and two-thirds of it is dying. A young forest is a healthy forest.”

The largest appropriation to the DNR was $12.5 million earmarked for state park infrastructure maintenance, repairs, and improvements.
While major resources have been devoted to Belle Isle in Detroit in recent months, Creagh said the appropriation was not geared toward Belle Isle.

“I would expect that some of these funds will go to Belle Isle, but Belle Isle will have to compete with other state parks for the money,” he said. “With this influx of money we can start addressing some issues in the parks, like sewer and water upgrades.”

Creagh said the Recreation Passport, established in 2010 to raise funding for state parks, has made an impact on parks funding, but still has a ways to go. The Recreation Passport replaced the old $25 state parks sticker and is available for $10 when you register your vehicle.

“We’re at about 27 to 28 percent (of vehicles with a Recreation Passport), but we want to get sales up to about 40 percent,” Creagh said. “(The parks) are in much better shape than we were a few years ago.”

The state’s trail network didn’t go unnoticed. Legislators set aside $3.5 million for development and maintenance of non-motorized trails. Creagh said part of that money would be used for a grants program for land purchases and to make connections, and that $1 million is specifically earmarked for upgrades and maintenance on the Hart/Montague Trail.

The final appropriation is to the tune of $1 million – down from the $3.5 requested – for the Summer Youth Employment Initiative with the Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps. The program employs youths for the summer to work in parks and recreation areas on things like river cleanup, landscaping, and other maintenance projects.

“MUCC is very pleased with the way the budget turned out this year,” Evans said. “It shows that the governor and the Legislature have a renewed interest in conservation.”

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