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Some Info on Dedicated Funding

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Hey guys, saw an old paper i wrote for an Enviro Law class a couple years ago and figured i would throw it on here what with that being on this year's ballot:

The funding of state wildlife agencies has been a hot topic in recent years with many worried about the ability of many of these agencies to enforce game and fish laws with the constant loss of personnel and shrinking budgets. In the paper I hope to address several of these problems such as, how does the under funding of state wildlife agencies contribute to the inability to enforce fish and game laws? How does this lack of enforcement impact game and fish populations? Do state agencies with dedicated funding, such as Missouri, experience a better ability to implement laws and look into how new laws and regulations will affect hunters, fishers, and others who use the outdoors? To limit the scope of my paper I will be using the Minnesota DNR as an example of how state wildlife agencies are run.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR), their mission is to “work with citizens to conserve and manage the state's natural resources, to provide outdoor recreation opportunities, and to provide for commercial uses of natural resources in a way that creates a sustainable quality of life” (MnDNR). State wildlife agencies are set up to help manage game and fish laws in their respective states. They do comprehensive studies to help determine how new regulations and laws affect the wildlife populations in certain areas. These studies can lead to stricter regulations or special regulations for certain areas or certain lakes (MnDNR).

The DNR interacts with the public in several different ways. One of the ways of interaction is through enforcement. Conservation Officers (COs) “enforce all authorized recreational, environmental and emerging issues statutes and regulations; identify needs, develop methods and implement plans to detect violations; investigate complaints; process criminal violations and arrest violators; seize and preserve evidence; and conduct audits of natural-resource licensed commercial operations” (MnDNR).

Another way the DNR interacts with the public is through surveys conducted. One way these surveys are conducted is at the time of purchase of a license for hunting, fishing, etc. A person attempting to buy a license from the DNR must answer one or two questions prior to the issuance of the license. Surveys are also conducted amongst hunters and anglers in the field by COs and other DNR personnel. However, with recent cuts in the budget these tasks are not always done. Since 1994, losses in personnel due to budget concerns have caused the loss of 80,000 hours per year of the completion of such important tasks as surveys, stocking, and land acquisition (Holmes).

The Funding of state wildlife agencies start with an allocation from the state’s general fund. In fiscal years 2002 and 2003, state taxes paid for over half of the DNR's biennial operating budget of $520.9 million. Fees paid by DNR's customers--people who buy hunting and fishing licenses, park visitors, recreational vehicle owners--account for another three-eighths. The remaining one-eighth comes from federal funds, business and commercial activity and all other revenue sources (MnDNR). The $266 million provided to the DNR by state taxes come from several different sources. Of all the tax money, individual income taxes provide the majority of this funding with an estimated $100.2 million in 2002-03 (MnDNR). Minnesota, however, is one of the better states for funding of its natural resource agency. Many state natural-resource agencies are now waking up to a vast financial train wreck, like the one now facing the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, which predicts its operating fund will fall from $27 million to $13 million between 2000 and 2005 (Marshall Storm Warnings Pt.1). Kentucky is not the only state having problems coming up with funds to enforce the laws; two-thirds of all states rely on license fees for 80 percent of their funding. Nineteen states get no help at all from their states' general funds (Marshall Storm Warnings Pt.1). Most of those states have been tightening their fiscal belts for years by trimming back the workload, by not filling positions as they become open, and by relying on increasingly outdated equipment. In Minnesota, a total of 22 fisheries positions and 25 wildlife positions have remained vacant or been eliminated in the last ten years, and dozens of programs have been reduced, simply because the money does not exist (Holmes).

One solution to the budget woes of many of these departments is dedicated funding. The Missouri Conservation Tax (MCT) is one long-term solution. The MCT is a 1997 measure that dedicated one-eighth of 1 percent of a sales tax to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), making that state the first to tap all of its citizens for the cost of managing fish and wildlife (Marshall Storm Warnings Pt.2). Arkansas is the latest example of the effectiveness of the Missouri system. For most of its life, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) struggled with one of the nation’s smallest budgets. That changed in 1996. After two previous failures, a coalition of conservation groups finally won a state referendum for a Missouri-style tax program. Since 1997, the Arkansas Conservation Sales Tax has taken one-eighth of 1 percent of a statewide sales tax and given 45 percent of that amount to the AGFC. Another 45 percent goes to the Department of Parks and Tourism. After the funding was received, the agency staff grew from 426 to 534, including 30 new game wardens. Some $12 million has been pledged to begin capital improvements for such critical infrastructure as lake dams, hatcheries, and boat ramps (Marshall Storm Warnings Pt.2). Minnesota has proposed a tax similar to the MCT the last several years but it has not yet made it through the legislature. The 4/16th of 1% proposed would dedicate an estimated $170 million to natural resources. Another option for funding is proceeds from a state lottery. In Minnesota 6.5% of lottery proceeds go towards natural resources. This percentage contributes $15.1 million annually to the DNR (MnDNR).

Funding of the Minnesota DNR’s operating budget related to sports and recreation is generated from the sale of licenses, permits, stamps, vehicle registrations, and titles. This amounts for $96.5 million annually. Monies collected through these user fees are put into dedicated accounts and can only be spent on related programs (MnDNR). Unfortunately, in the last twenty years, the number of sportsmen across the nation has begun to steadily decline and many states have problems raising funds by user fees alone. Today, nearly 70% of all fish and wildlife funding in the nation still depends on the declining pool of sportsmen's dollars because the general public remains uninvolved (Marshall Storm Warnings Pt.1).

The effects of under-funding are felt by more than just the agencies themselves. With the loss of funding, many agencies are unable to acquire land that would protect fish and wildlife habitat. The acquisition of this land is beneficial to the public, in that more land is available for use. Another problem that is felt by the general public is that many agencies are unable to enforce the laws on the vast amount of hunters and anglers. As of 2001, New Jersey had seven enforcement officers to cover an estimated 800,000 anglers (Marshall Storm Warnings Pt.1). With the inability to enforce laws, many agencies have begun to notice an increase in poaching cases. To fight the growing poaching problem, partly the fault of less available enforcement, Minnesota started a program in 1981 called Turn In Poachers (TIP). TIP is a way for the general public to report game and fish violations to the DNR. Citizens can call the TIP hotline 24 hours a day to report various violations. Since it’s inception in 1981, there have been more than 15,800 calls that have resulted in more than 6,000 arrests for violations ranging from a few fish over the limit to the poaching of big game animals to the destruction of wetlands by off-highway vehicles (Weflen 8).

Infrastructure, the physical properties that make hunting and fishing possible, has taken a beating in many states. Maintenance of boat ramps, fish hatcheries, reservoirs, ponds, dams, and road systems—as well as land acquisition—has been abandoned as agencies strive to do the basics. Even states that are covering their expenses have a rising tide of infrastructure bills that threaten to swamp them. Pennsylvania is a worst-case example. While currently in the black, it has a $72 million backlog of infrastructure repairs, yet its agency has a total budget of less than $46 million (Pennsylvania DCNR).

As funding diminishes for state agencies around the country, managers are desperately looking for ways to acquire funds for their agencies. In an effort to stay solvent, most states have resorted to fleecing nonresident hunters and fishers. Visiting sportsmen, often hunting on national lands their taxes help manage, sometimes find themselves paying fees four times greater than locals must meet. The practice is most common in the West, where states with small populations often are invaded by hundreds or thousands of nonresidents in the fall. Incredibly, agencies in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana typically derive from 63 to 75 percent of their income from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses; 70 percent of that income comes from nonresidents (Marshall Storm Warnings Pt.1). Another approach by some states is to limit the amount of nonresidents that can hunt in their state, or to only allow residents to hunt for a certain portion of the season. Many outdoorsmen have gotten sick of this tactic in recent years and have petitioned their own states to do something about it, which has resulted in more states sticking it to nonresidents. Minnesota’s latest attempt at combating this tactic is a lawsuit against North Dakota. Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch filed a lawsuit last year against North Dakota, alleging the state's nonresident hunting regulations discriminate against thousands of Minnesotans who hunt ducks, geese, and pheasants there (Niskanen). Minnesota also attempted another way to get back at some states by using reciprocity. As of this year nonresident hunting fees from states that charge more than Minnesota for a hunting license will be the same as a Minnesota resident would pay in that state (MnDNR 2004 Hunting Regulations). Minnesota legislators hope that this law will “wake up” lawmakers in other states who continue to charge huge fees for nonresidents to hunt in their own states (Dreislen 13).

One final hope for wildlife agencies is CARA. CARA is the acronym for the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, a congressional plan that would divert billions of offshore oil royalties to state fish and wildlife agencies. By tapping offshore mineral royalties, the bill would create a $3.1 billion package over 15 years to provide more than $350 million for states to manage wildlife conservation, recreation, and education projects. When the pre-9/11 economy was still thriving in 2000, CARA enjoyed broad bipartisan support and actually made it through both houses of Congress, only to be broken up in a joint meeting of House and Senate appropriation committees. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana reintroduced the bill in 2001, but the hope of passage is fading along with the nation’s dwindling economy (Marshall Storm Warnings Pt.2).

Although states actively court other industries with incentive packages measuring in the hundreds of millions of dollars, few invest in outdoors recreation managed by state agencies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates fish and wildlife-based industries pour more than $5 billion in tax revenue into state coffers, yet 31 states reinvest less than 10 percent of that revenue in the agencies that manage those industries (Marshall Storm Warnings Pt.2).

The Minnesota DNR is asked to manage more than one million acres of wildlife management areas, over 5,000 game-fish lakes, over 15,000 miles of streams, and enforce laws on over 700,000 hunters and more than one million licensed anglers. (Holmes) This is a daunting task that is becoming increasingly more difficult with each passing year and each budget cut that is made.

As our country moves ahead, many wildlife agencies are being left behind. As state agencies’ funding is cut more and more, the agencies are leaning on an ever-diminishing pool of sportsmen. Nevertheless, while the amount of sportsmen declines, more is asked of the money they contribute through user fees. Sportsmen's dollars are increasingly being used to fund nongame or endangered-species programs at the expense of traditional fish and wildlife operations. Monies from the licensing of ATVs and snowmobiles go towards the building of bike trails; money collected through a surcharge on hunting license fees goes towards the acquisition of Wildlife Management Areas, which benefit all of the public. Moreover, if this land is not saved by the state, how much longer will it take before it turns into another golf course, development, or strip mall? Under funding of fish and wildlife departments shortchanges not only the sportsmen, but it also cheats those who choose nonconsumptive activities; bird watchers, hikers, bikers, and those just interested in seeing the real beauty of the natural world all benefit by what is done by these agencies.

All this begs the question, cant fish and wildlife agencies just do more with less? Well, they are trying, but the simple fact remains that you cannot get something done if there is no one left to do it.

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The coastal states, including MN, already tap into the offshore oil and natural gas lease revenues. But those funds, administered through NOAA, are distributed to a host of agencies and universities for 'research'. Additionally, NOAA also sucks up large portions of those funds for their pet projects and mission creep.

I think a re-evaluation of how coastal funds are allocated is long overdue...and should be redirected toward many of the goals contemplated in the dedicated funding proposal....

The money is out there, but our society and elected officials refuse to address core ojectives and priorities.

Of particular frustration to me is the way in which Federal funds for conservation and natural resource management are allocated. We have become a 'grantocracy' in which federal agency employees issue grant solicitations within a narrowly defined set of criteria and have broad discretion to fund their state and university collegues.

We should be moving back to the block grant era of the 1970's when the states received Federal funds with fewer fragmented, narrowly defined, program objectives. Then allow the states to determine their environmental and natural resource priorities.

Good paper, but a more effective approach would be to examine the billions of federal funds that are allocated and wasted.

GAO stated in 2003 that the Great Lakes Initiative (for example) had spent nearly $100 million over the last decade with little or no results and accountability for those expenditures was non-existant. Those funds were dominantly off-shore oil and gas lease revenues.

Unless we refuse to continue to support additional fragmented funding increases such as the proposed sales tax increase, we will never get our elected and administration leaders to focus on priorities. THE MONEY IS ALREADY THERE. THE WILL AND VISION TO ARTICULATE PRIORITIES IS MIA.

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