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Committee criticizes fish, wildlife funding

Discussion in 'The Powder Keg' started by colt45, Jun 15, 2002.

  1. Committee criticizes fish, wildlife funding

    By Tim Spielman
    Associate Editor
    St. Paul — A citizens oversight committee, charged with reviewing how the DNR spends money raised via hunting and fishing license and stamp fees, says the state as a whole needs to invest in its natural resources.
    “Minnesota has never invested sufficiently in fisheries and wildlife resources relative to the value of those resources in the state,â€￾ the report from the Game and Fish Fund Budgetary Oversight Committee said. The committee, comprised of eight subcommittee chairs along with an independent committee chair, reported that two past governor’s commissions have found the same.
    The committee said recent license fee increases will “put most programs on solid footing for the short term,â€￾ but will be unable to keep up with inflation and other cost increases, necessitating funding from sources outside of license and stamp revenue.
    Two of the committee’s suggestions would remove some of the burden of funding natural resources projects from hunters and anglers. One of the suggestions is the dedication of a portion of the state sales tax to such things — a proposition that’s failed to clear the state Legislature three straight sessions. Another committee recommendation is to increase appropriations from the state’s General Fund, “to recognize the benefit of Game and Fish Fund programs to all Minnesotans, not just hunters and anglers. Another suggestion is to index license fees to inflation.
    Committee chair Ira Adelman, a University of Minnesota professor within the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, called the need for stable funding “legitimate.â€￾
    “There’s a feeling the state’s natural resources have been neglected for a long period of time and that they’re important to Minnesota,â€￾ he said.
    Land acquisition
    Increased funding for land acquisition also rated highly on the committee’s list of recommendations. In particular, the committee emphasized how state matching funds have fallen behind for the Re-invest in Minnesota Critical Habitat Match Program. In that program, the state matches, dollar for dollar, donations of land, easements, or cash.
    “Private donors have contributed over $26 million to the program since it began in 1986,â€￾ the report states, “but the public match has not kept pace with donations.â€￾
    In each of the past five years, there have been unmatched private donations of from $1 million to $3 million.
    The committee also questioned whether conservation license plates should continue to be considered part of the state’s match for RIM.
    “… the $1 million from the conservation license plates should be considered an additional private donation and we question whether it should really count as state match,â€￾ the report says.
    According to the committee, “acquisition has been halted because of the administration’s questioning the validity of DNR appraisals.â€￾ It recommends statutory changes to fix the problem.
    Enforcement
    The Enforcement, Administration, and Support Services Subcommittee said the DNR needs to budget accordingly for the impending retirement of a large portion of the conservation officer workforce.
    According to the subcommittee’s report, there now are 162 field stations filled, up from 149 in 2000, but still down 14. However, many are more than 50 years old and “could retire at any time causing the department major replacement problems.â€￾ The subcommittee recommends allowing DNR Enforcement to budget for future retirements, work load, and training.
    “The enforcement subcommittee is very concerned about the ability to fill vacant spots,â€￾ Adelman said. “It’s not just budgetary, but that’s part of it.â€￾
    That subcommittee also recommends increasing license fees for snowmobiles, ATVs and personal watercraft, and increasing grants to county sheriff’s departments to allow them to better enforce recreational vehicle laws.
    Lack of bonding
    hurts facilities
    The Budgetary Oversight Committee says state bonding for DNR projects has not met the department’s needs.
    “Field operations in particular are suffering from deterioration of property and buildings,â€￾ the report says. “Without proper maintenance, they will eventually need to be replaced at a much higher cost.â€￾
    Eco-Services feels effects
    The committee reported “exclusion of Ecological Services from an increase in base funding after the recent increase in license fees has limited the division’s ability to contribute as effectively as needed to sustaining Minnesota’s fisheries and wildlife resources.â€￾
    The oversight subcommittee says Eco-Services receives 2.5 percent of the Game and Fish Fund, a “minor investment considering the return to the resource.â€￾
    Goals for the future
    The committee recommended the DNR better demonstrate to the subcommittees and license buyers how funds are spent. Furthermore, “there is a need to tie expenditures to quantifiable outcome goals, not just activities, as is largely the current practice,â€￾ according to the committee.
    Adelman said by early July, subcommittee members and DNR personnel will work to come up with some of these “outcome goals.â€￾