DNR Cuts Mean 79 Layoffs Imminent
Barring a last-minute legislative decision to accept the Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) hunting and fishing license fee increase package, the department will be forced to lay off 79 employees and discontinue or scale back a number of services, DNR Director Rebecca HUMPHRIES told employees today.
If nothing is done about the situation in the next 12 months, at least 37 state parks and eight interpretative centers will close, meaning a cut of 253 more staff.
Cuts of $8.2 million are needed at the DNR to balance a Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 budget heavily reliant on declining user fee revenue. For most of the year, DNR officials have asked the Legislature to approve a recommended fee increase package.
But after the Legislature swallowed hard on a 10 percent income tax increase and an expansion of the use tax to services, the political will to raise hunting and fishing fees simply isn't there. Word is the Republican-led Senate, in particular, simply is not interested in moving the fee bills after approving $1.4 billion in new revenue for the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 budget.
That means starting Nov. 1, two more campgrounds will be shut down, growing the total to 22. Two of the state's fish hatcheries and a research station will close, putting at risk $2 billion in fishing losses from the roughly 4.5 million fewer salmon and trout in the state's water ways. The state's research vessels will be grounded. About 28,300 acres of waterfowl areas will be closed off to hunters.
Roughly 6,000 nuisance Canadian geese cannot be removed from southeast Michigan as has been the practice. Conservation officer numbers will be reduced, opening the door to more poaching, increased accident and injuries due to hunter safety violations or reckless use of boats, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles, Humphries said.Cuts in the timber-marking program will impact tourism and the state's $13 billion timber industry, she said.An unknown number of field offices also will be closed. The emergency dispatch for poaching will be cut off from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Conservation officers also will no longer be available for law enforcement backup, said DNR Spokeswoman Mary DETTLOFF.
Humphries described the cuts as the most "severe budgetary" measures put in place and they only will get worse, she said. The DNR already has swallowed $20 million in program cuts since Fiscal Year (FY) 2005, meaning 50 conservation officer positions have been left vacant.
It's meant scaled back programs fighting bovine TB and other wildlife disease. Fewer personnel are available to fight forest fires, fix trails and mark timber for sale.
A review of the FY 2005 budget passed by the Legislature calls for 2,070 full-time employees. That number moved to 2,082 in FY 2008.
If changes don't improve by April 2008, Humphries said the DNR will stop taking reservations for any state park into Fiscal Year (FY) 2009. It simply may not be open. Humphries said this cut will be a $580 million blow to the economy.
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