The Opener: The Conservation Coalition

by Lia Biondo, Policy Intern
Conservation Coalition logoThe Conservation Coalition is a group of statewide hunting, fishing, trapping and conservation organizations across Michigan that gather to work on “big picture” issues in the outdoors. The Coalition has regular quarterly meetings with top leaders in Lansing, including the Governor’s office and Department of Natural Resources leadership. The group recently convened with the DNR to discuss the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget, how the new license fee restructuring panned out, and future investment areas.
As Fiscal Year 2014-15 winds down and preparations for next year come into play, the Coalition looks for transparency in the DNR’s budget in order to best allocate future department funding decisions. This past year, there were 13 original “buckets” that were to be filled with the $11.8 million increase in revenue that came from the license fee restructuring. The state did not generate all of the projected $11.8 million, but did end up with a whopping $7.8 million in increased revenue. This was used to fund projects in fisheries resource management, fisheries habitat improvement, wildlife resources management, wildlife habitat improvement, forest management and timber market development, marketing and outreach, general law enforcement and others.
While the Coalition was hopeful that something new would come of the license restructuring instead of simply funding existing staff, it was certainly understood that the department had tough choices to make as well as their commitments to ‘boots on the ground, waders in the water and grants to the locals.’  The department currently receives less than 0.5% of general fund money from the state, which means that the rest of the dollars must come from natural resource user fees. In this sense, it is imperative that the department and the natural resource users of Michigan collaborate on funding priorities.
The Coalition stressed an importance on wildlife habitat management, fisheries resource management and enhanced forest management within our state. There was a desire to see more funding go towards cold water fisheries assessments, as well as game species habitat management. Marketing and Outreach received a large amount of funding last year to update the online retail system for licenses and other department products. The Law Enforcement division’s budget was broken down into 80% going towards personnel wages, 10% for trucks, vehicles and maintenance, and 10% for equipment, travel, training and other miscellaneous items. It was brought up that 80% of DNR trucks, snowmobiles, boats and other manned vehicles are over ten years old and looking for a replacement. Law Enforcement seemed to be a solid line item in the budget that needed as much funding as they could receive. Finance and Operations wound up as the least priority item for Coalition members, with the suggestion of better utilizing existing staff and “office hours” during peak license sale hours.  After hearing the department’s funding presentation, the Coalition was in general agreement with the dispersion of funds for the 2014-2015 fiscal year with the above thoughts and discussions considered.
Following the discussion on last year’s spending, there was mention of the department’s future funding goals. The DNR’s priority investment areas were to expand recreational shooting opportunities which in turn would increase outdoor recreation participation and increase participation in fee-based outdoor recreation activities. The Coalition commented that instead of the DNR focusing marketing outreach dollars on recruitment and retention, that this duty be passed onto partnering groups and organizations. It would be more beneficial for local sportsmen’s groups to increase their community outreach than to consider this a function of the state. The Coalition hopes to reach within its network to encourage more partnering organizations to focus on hunter/angler/trapper recruitment and retention.
Michigan has rich public resources, and it is through the conservation-minded people of the state that we are able to ensure these resources will be protected for years to come. The collaborative discussions with the department and conservation group leaders around the state are what allow Michigan to be at the forefront of natural resource conservation issues.

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