MUCC’s Position on the License Fee Proposal: Final Summary
In 2007, when the Department of Natural Resources presented a doomsday scenario that would see massive cuts in programs and staffing in an attempt to increase license fees, there was great damage done.
As it turned out, the Department had a significant budget surplus. Was the surplus simply an accounting error? A lack of public understanding? It’s very difficult to know with any certainty. But there was one certainty: The process and end result did tremendous damage to the DNR’s relationship with those who supported a fee increase and the hunting, fishing and trapping community.
Today, a new license fee package is on the table, presented by Gov. Rick Snyder as part of his 2014 budget. And it’s time for all involved to learn from the lessons provided in 2007 and move forward.
Throughout the week, MUCC has provided background information and perspective on the approach it has taken in evaluating the current license proposal.
MUCC is very much in support of a simpler, smarter license structure and system. We feel that the Governor’s proposal is indeed simpler and smarter.
MUCC is also very much in support of sustainable funding for conservation so long as the funding is used appropriately and the expenditures are presented openly and clearly to the public. In evaluating this, MUCC shared a number of reports and programs that the DNR has adopted since 2007. Why were those reports and procedures put into place? Because MUCC and other organizations insisted that they were.
While no one has to forget what has happened in the past, it would be foolish to insist that we continue to live in it. What happened can not be changed. What happens next can be.
Michigan has not had a fee increase since 1996. Anyone who drives to work knows that the cost of doing business has certainly increased over the past 17 years.
The expectations of hunters, anglers and trappers have also changed. We demand more out of the woods and water now than before. It’s unreasonable to expect more without putting more in. That’s just a simple fact of life.
As part of the Governor’s license proposal, a number of outcomes have been laid out in an effort to show exactly where additional funding will be spent. Some of the highlights are:
- Increase educational/outreach/public safety contacts by hiring additional conservation officers
- Increase technical assistance for fisheries habitat improvement on cold-water streams
- Increase creel surveys and assessments on inland lakes & streams
- Increase outreach to anglers that fish for perch, bluegill, and bass
- Increase rearing and stocking of fish by addressing infrastructure needs in our hatcheries
- Provide grants to stakeholders to increase fisheries habitat in inland lakes and streams
- Increase acres of public game areas receiving habitat management or maintenance
- Provide grants to stakeholders to increase acres receiving habitat management or maintenance
- Enhance the Retail Sales System to create a better license buying experience
- Expand recruitment and retention programs for hunters and anglers
- Open additional service centers to the public and increase hours that service centers are open to the public
- Increase acres of state forests receiving wildlife habitat management or maintenance
- Provide grants to stakeholders to increase acres of state forests receiving wildlife habitat management or maintenance
- Pay property taxes to local governments for access to public lands
Take another look at the list. Do those outcomes reflect the things that matter to you as a hunter, angler or trapper? Are those areas that you feel the DNR needs to improve upon?
MUCC has considered the list carefully. It has worked with members and stakeholder groups to determine whether the funding is being directed properly. It has also insisted that the Department develop business plans and evaluate how, where and why it chooses to invest resources. It has also asked that the Department make those strategic plans public and that annual reports be released to help all users see where their money is spent.
The DNR has complied with those requests.
Currently, MUCC and other members of the Conservation Coalition are working on additional details of the package. Some of the areas of consideration include:
- More equitable division of any new revenues between fisheries and wildlife
- Increased focus on management-related expenditures
- Maintaining protection of existing restricted funds
- Options for creating a special stamp for additional species or habitat specific stamps
- Discounted licenses for juniors, in line with the proposed senior discounts
- Multi-species package licenses for adults, juniors, and seniors
These discussions are ongoing and will continue throughout the legislative process.
And, most importantly, the Governor’s proposal includes a 5-year sunset. This sunset allows us to make changes in the future if the results are not satisfactory. How will we know they are using our money, not only according to its intended purposes but towards the highest and best uses? Only time will tell. But we have worked with them to set up the processes and plans for us to keep an eye on it. And we can assure you that we are watching.
After considering all of the information and countless hours of research, fact-finding and discussion with its members and partners, Michigan United Conservation Clubs has lent its support to the Governor’s license proposal. There is still some work that needs to be done to create a plan that we are completely satisfied with.
But there is no question that long-term, sustainable funding for conservation is of critical importance. And the time has come to learn from the past, put it behind us and support a better outdoors for tomorrow.
Click HERE to download a copy of MUCC’s final report on the license proposal.