On February 15, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Dan Eichinger presented Governor Whitmer’s budget proposal for the DNR to the House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development and Natural Resources. The proposal presents an opportunity to modernize the department in an unprecedented way.
The budget proposal is highlighted by a series of one time expenditures for the department to modernize equipment and facilities across the state. Also included are a number of appropriations to make the DNR more competitive in recruiting and retaining both permanent and short-term employees by increasing wages and hours.
The largest one-time expenditure proposed is $30 million for DNR Fisheries Division to update biosecurity, equipment and infrastructure at the state’s fish hatcheries, including a $6 million expenditure to create a new coolwater facility at the Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery in Van Buren County. This funding presents exciting opportunities for our fisheries division to modernize in a way that they have not had before.
MUCC supports the department’s fisheries division proposal, said Amy Trotter, MUCC executive director.
“It is unprecedented to get this level of general fund support for fisheries division priorities,” Trotter said, “With this money the next generation of biologists will not constantly be fighting decaying infrastructure and equipment.”
A department wide $12.4 million expenditure is also in the proposal. This money would be used to upgrade DNR vehicles and equipment across several department divisions, including fisheries, forest resources and law enforcement.
A replacement for the antique Lake Michigan survey vessel is also in the proposal as a $4 million one-time expenditure to acquire a new vessel with state of the art electronics, motors, and equipment. Director Eichinger stated that the existing vessel is to the point where the repairs and upkeep are far more costly than just replacing the vessel.
In an effort to improve tribal relations and co-management of fisheries with the recognized tribes, $682,800 in new ongoing general funds have been proposed. This funding is meant to support more biologists and technicians within the tribal coordination unit. This is a significant increase in funding effectively doubling the general fund investment on fisheries management.
For MUCC, the sourcing of the funding is as important as the goal, said Trotter.
“The expenditure for the tribal coordination unit is appropriately funded from the General Fund,” Trotter said, “It seeks to co-manage a commercial fishery, which should not be expenses borne solely by hunters and anglers from their license revenue.”
Some of the other spending proposals of note include:
- $2 million one-time for a Mass Timber Facility at the Newberry Customer Service Center.
- $751,900 in general funds for wildfire prevention and protection.
- $485,000 one time expenditure to digitize decaying physical, and historical records.
- $9.2 million in restricted funds from the Forest Recreation Account, Michigan State Waterways Fund, and Park Improvement fund. This is part of employee recruitment and retention initiatives, including increases in wages and hours.
- $3.1 in restricted funds to support ORV trail improvement grants and law enforcement of ORV trail system.
- $2.8 in restricted funds from the Forest Recreation Account, Michigan State Waterways Fund, and Park Improvement fund to increase funding for state campsites and harbors.
- $678,800 in available federal and restricted funds to increase wages for short-term employees in fisheries, shooting ranges, and cultural centers.
- $100,000 in available restricted revenue for Michigan Pheasant Hunting Initiative from available Pheasant Hunting License fee revenue.
- $297,800 in available restricted revenue from available Youth Hunting and Fishing Education and Outreach funding to support the MiConnect Outdoors License sales system.
What is missing is any substantial new funding specifically relating to DNR Wildlife Division, which does not seem to be a priority of the Governor’s office. MUCC will continue to monitor the DNR budget proposal as it goes through the appropriations process.