It's only logical: Spend hunting fees on hunting, fishing fees on fishing
If you're like me, you have only a vague sense of how the Department of Natural Resources spends your license and stamp money. You probably figure, as I did, that your fishing license money goes to improve and maintain the state's fisheries. And ...
If you're like me, you have only a vague sense of how the Department of Natural Resources spends your license and stamp money.
You probably figure, as I did, that your fishing license money goes to improve and maintain the state's fisheries.
And you may have assumed that the money you spend on hunting licenses goes to support wildlife and wildlife habitat.
Well, the answer is yes and no, according to a recent report from a citizens oversight committee that watchdogs the DNR's budget.
The Budget Oversight Committee discovered that since 2000, the fisheries budget ran about a $12 million deficit while the hunting budget ran a $17 million surplus. Lumped together, which the funds are, the hunting revenues more than made up for the fisheries red ink.
While it's good that fisheries and wildlife are collectively solvent, the oversight committee is upset that there's such an imbalance between fisheries and wildlife expenditures. And rightfully so.
"...This Committee believes that the DNR has an implicit ethical obligation to its stakeholders to spend fishing revenues on fishing and hunting revenues on hunting,' states the report, which an ad hoc oversight committee wrote in February. That report was cited in the BOC's annual report dated Aug. 25.
The Budget Oversight Committee is right to question the DNR's lopsided allocation of fisheries and wildlife revenues. While state law does not require that fisheries revenues be spent on fisheries, and that wildlife revenues be spent on wildlife, it's only logical that one branch not significantly subsidize the other. I think most hunters and anglers expect that.
No one is accusing the DNR of spending its fish and wildlife money unwisely or doing anything unscrupulous. Unexpected situations arise and must be paid for somehow. The discovery of chronic wasting disease in Minnesota required the DNR to quickly launch a sampling and testing program on wild deer. An Accelerated Walleye Program demands that the DNR ramp up rearing and stocking efforts. The Legislature often passes bills requiring the DNR to initiate programs that weren't budgeted.
Certainly, fishing and hunting are related, and many Minnesotans pursue both activities. But it seems logical that the two pots of revenues -- from fishing and hunting license sales -- be spent largely on their respective disciplines.
"I think they have a moral obligation to do that,' said Dennis Neilson of Medina, Minn., who chairs the Wildlife Operations Committee of the Budget Oversight Committee. "I think this is something that's gotten away. It perpetuates itself. Our idea is, gosh, let's fix it.'
The ad hoc oversight committee, in its annual report, issued this statement about the problem: "All parties need to work together to achieve full disclosure, commit to changes in tracking hunting and fishing activities as separate entities, and to make the legislative and funding changes necessary to correct this inequity.'
The Division of Fish and Wildlife has heard the committee's voice clearly, said Pete Skwira, administrative services section chief for the division.
"We do think this is important,' Skwira said in a telephone interview Thursday. "We are taking it seriously. We intend to honor the hunters and anglers and their expectations about how we spend these dollars.'
Historically, Skwira said, expenditures have gone the other way at times. In the 1990s, the wildlife section was overspending, and fisheries dollars made up for that deficit, he said.
"The lesson we've learned from this is that this (the allocation of fisheries and hunting revenues) is a tool to use in putting our budget together,' Skwira said.
As hunters and anglers, we can thank the volunteers on these budget oversight committees for bringing this issue to light. And we can hope the DNR will be responsive in addressing it.
SAM COOK can be reached at (218) 723-5332 or email@example.com . For previous columns, go to duluthnewstribune.com .