Madison — When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed the 2015-17 state budget July 12, he issued a total of 104 vetoes that included several cuts to the DNR or natural resources programs.
Some of those vetoes also increased fees (mostly in state parks) to help reduce layoffs and reductions.
The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters called it a “grab bag of anti-conservation policy.”
In the governor’s vetoes before he signed the budget, he made additional cuts to natural resources from the budget that passed the state Assembly, Senate, and the Joint Finance Committee.
He vetoed a new provision, added by the JFC, that would have allowed the DNR to use proceeds from the sale of state land to pay down state debt (50 percent) and to purchase other needed lands (50 percent).
This would have allowed the Stewardship fund to purchase more state land for current and future residents.
With his veto, all of the money received from selling land, which the Legislature requires to be sold, must now go to pay off current debt.
“I object to using proceeds from land sales for additional property acquisition,” Walker wrote. “Rather these proceeds should be utilized to reduce existing debt related to the acquisition of property.”
The governor had proposed changing the Natural Resources Board from its regulatory authority to strictly advisory. The JFC deleted that, retaining the board as it exists now, and Walker agreed to that change.
• The JFC had required the DNR to update all master plans for all northern state forests, except the Governor Knowles State Forest, by March 1, 2017. The veto gave the DNR until June 30, 2017 to update the plans.
• Eliminating a requirement for the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct an audit of the Forestry Account. The governor deleted this, saying the Legislature does not need statutory authority to direct one of its agencies to conduct a study. Without a law requiring a study, it may or may not ever be conducted.
• The governor completely eliminated more than $1 million in grants to 12 nonprofit organizations (such as the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Natural Resources Foundation, Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, Gathering Waters, Wisconsin County Forest Association, and River Alliance). The only group to still get a grant is the Northern Great Lakes Center – Historical Society for $50,900. Grants to the others had been approved by the Assembly, Senate, and JFC, but the governor’s veto eliminated them.
• Vetoed a requirement for the DNR to conduct a study on the effectiveness of the car-killed deer removal program.
• Eliminated further restrictions on the distribution of snowmobile trail aids beyond the amount collected by trail fees.
• Eliminated $124,400 in grants to the UW-Stevens Point paper science program, saying he believes existing funding from the Conservation Fund is appropriate, and the UW system can reallocate funds if needed.
• Walker vetoed portions of changes Joint Finance made to layoff procedures for the DNR to give the DNR maximum flexibility to keep employees who are critical to the mission.
The budget passed by the Assembly, Senate, and JFC that stays in lockstep with the governor’s signature includes a DNR base budget of $1.1 billion for the biennium, which is similar to the past biennium, but with a loss of 92 full-time-equivalent positions at the department.
The loss includes 18.4 positions in the Bureau of Science Services and 11 educators.
The budget deletes 13.35 vacant positions from fish and wildlife and directs DNR, in consultation with stakeholders, to prepare a plan to address an imbalance in the fund. The budget also includes a reduction of nine full-time-equivalent positions in Forestry.
Although the governor had recommended shutting down the Stewardship program, the JFC brought it back at a reduced level. The program now will allow the DNR to purchase up to $9 million worth of land, but only one-third can be in outright purchases and two-thirds must be easements.
An additional restriction is that all fee simple property transactions north of Hwy. 64, using Stewardship funds, are subject to Joint Committee on Finance review.
The DNR may use up to $1 million of Stewardship funds for Ice Age Trail acquisition, rather than $3 million currently allowed.
Nonprofit conservation organizations will be able to receive and use $7 million in Stewardship grants (rather than the current $12 million) for land purchases.
The Kettle Moraine Springs State Fish Hatchery will be able to be completed with $19.6 million from Stewardship funds.
The budget eliminates the Managed Forest Land board and the Milwaukee River Revitalization Council.
The budget requires the DNR to develop a plan to move the headquarters for the Division of Forestry from Madison to a northern location. The plan must be completed in time to incorporate the plan in the 2017-19 state budget.
In a new requirement, the DNR must give $1 million each year from the Forestry account to municipalities based on the amount of Managed Forest Land closed to the public enrolled in their jurisdiction. Eighty percent goes to municipalities and 20 percent to counties.
The budget did not provide funds for the Walleye Initiative, where it funded $1 million for walleye enhancement grants previously, but those hatcheries that received past grants are required to sell walleyes to the state for three years.
More from the budget
• Eliminated the Class B bear license. This will allow anyone to join a Class A hunter, who must be the one to shoot a bear, but if a bear is wounded and threatens humans, others in the party may shoot the bear.
• Stipulated that no local governmental unit can enforce a law that prevents a bowhunter or crossbow hunter from hunting within the area of the governmental unit.
• Allows the DNR to collect fees at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center that is expected to open Aug. 22. The new area, known as an Explorium, will contain educational displays and hands-on exhibits.
• Removes shoreland zoning regulations that protect water quality in 30 counties.
• Allows Enbridge, which has had environmental problems, to expand oil pipelines and prevent counties from requiring higher insurance coverage to cover full cleanup of oil spills.
• Eliminates the Environmental Education Board, though keeping the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education.
• Limits DNR Forestry from overseeing cutting notices for timber harvests on land enrolled in Managed Forest Law. This allows foresters who are accredited by the Wisconsin Consulting Foresters to cut certain lands in Managed Forest Law or Forest Crop Law without getting prior approval from the DNR.
• Eliminates all taxpayer support from state parks, and increases state park vehicle stickers from $25 to $28, camping fees by $2 per night, reservation fees by $9.70, and looks for new ways to fund state parks.
• Reduces funding for nutrient-management plans by $500,000, opening the door to more phosphorous and nitrogen pollution in waterways, critics say.
• Reduces recycling grants to local communities by $4 million, a 22-percent reduction.
• Eliminates the requirement that bicycle and pedestrian facilities be incorporated into new highway projects, unless federal funding requires them.
The DNR is now adjusting to the new budget and figuring out what positions will be cut.