MUCC's Position on the License Fee Proposal: Historical Perspective

EDITOR'S NOTE: In early February, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder unveiled a proposal to overhaul the state's hunting, fishing and trapping license system. The proposal would create a new license structure and generate an estimated $18 million in funding for the DNR. The proposed structure would include a $10 "base" hunting license that allows the holder to hunt small game and waterfowl (a Federal duck stamp would also be required however).
Michigan United Conservation Clubs has been carefully considering the proposal, researching the plans and processes behind the proposal and meeting with stakeholder groups as well as state and DNR officials. On Friday, March 1, MUCC will release a document outlining its position on the package. In preparation for that release, we will post an entry here each day providing background and information on that process. Michigan United Conservation Clubs, as the nation's largest and longest-running state-specific conservation organization, is very much in support of sustainable, sensible funding for conservation.  Its membership has also repeatedly supported policy seeking simpler, easier-to-understand licensing and regulations.
At the same time, MUCC insists that its members receive the very best returns on their license dollars. Thus the organization has been carefully evaluating the proposed package and would like to share those findings here.
To fully understand the approach that MUCC is taking on the proposed license structure, it's important to note some of the behind-the-scenes work that has been ongoing for several years. In 2007, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources requested a fee increase to solve a financial "crisis" in which the Department faced severe cutbacks in staffing and programs in order to balance its budget which was projected to have a $13 million deficit in the Game and Fish Fund by FY 2009.
Unfortunately, it appears the Department was either not completely transparent in its true financial state or had made fairly substantial errors in its accounting. As it turns out, the Department had not accounted for about $20 million in revenue and ended 2007 with a $10 million fund balance, which they claimed resulted from an unexpected increase in license sales, operational savings and higher-than-expected returns on investments.
This process was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back for many hunters and anglers and was also a serious point of contention with MUCC and other conservation groups. The conservation community had stood together to ensure that conservation funding was in place based on the information and data we were provided. And we also felt the backlash when it all turned out to be not quite as described.
Thus MUCC vowed that it would conduct a thorough audit of the way the DNR conducts its business. And that work has been ongoing since. As part of that process, MUCC looked closely at how the DNR communicates with the public, where it spends license dollars and how it chooses areas to invest those dollars.
While much of this work has been publicized outright, the results of that work have produced several notable outcomes. In Tuesday's entry, we will provide details on the results of those efforts.

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