Help Save Michigan State Parks and Trails
If you mountain bike, run, hike, ride or ski at Michigan state parks and on state forest trails, you may have already heard about the recent DNR funding crisis: closing state parks, closing state forest campgrounds, drastically reduced XC ski trail grooming, etc.
Iíve put together a web site devoted to this critical issue of and itís on-line at www.m-bike.org/dnr
I really hope folks can participate and help us grow momentum for a new funding proposal to reverse these trends. We need to talk up with issue with our state legislators. This is a great time to do that since itís the holidays and they should be in the home district more.
If we can get all our park- and trail-related groups working cohesively on this, thereís no reason why we canít get this passed and signed into law.
Contact me if you have any questions and feel free to share this with others that might be interested.
DNR Makes Incredible Find
Any credibility the Department of Natural Resources has with Michigan sportsmen is vanishing quicker than a whitetail deer spooked by a noisy hunter. It seems incredible that the agency has suddenly discovered a $10 million balance in its Game and Fish Fund when the agency has been threatening to lay off 79 employees and close some wildlife areas to hunting ostensibly due to a lack of funds. On Dec. 11, DNR Director Rebecca Humphries explained to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources that the unexpected windfall is due to an increase in license sales, operational changes and good returns on investments. It seems hard to believe that any of these reasons should come as a surprise as they should routinely be tracked by DNR fiscal managers. This sudden revelation by the DNR is disturbingly similar to the announcement by three state agencies last year that they violated the state constitution by overspending their legislatively authorized appropriations.
DNR officials have been claiming for the past year that a large increase in hunting and fishing license fees was necessary to keep the agency fiscally solvent. However, the Legislature was less than enthusiastic about approving a substantial increase on the backs of sportsmen in the state, many of whom are feeling the effects of Michiganís sour economy. It was reported in the Michigan Information & Research Serviceís Capitol Capsule that Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, had reached a deal to use $5 million from the Michigan Business Tax to shore up the fund. I am sure that announcement provided holiday cheer to many Michigan businesses and residents already dealing with a nearly $1.4 billion tax hike approved in October to solve Lansingís overspending crisis.
Legislators should demand that the management of DNR fiscal assets be open to public scrutiny. It appears that the Natural Resources Commission, largely appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, is not asking tough questions nor holding DNR officials accountable. A thorough review needs to be conducted of all the DNR programs that receive money from the Game and Fish Fund. The DNR should not count on significant revenue from fee increases to sustain its programs. For example, it makes little sense to have programs that encourage more people to take up hunting and fishing when the administration of those programs requires an increase in license fees ó which results in fewer people purchasing licenses.
It would appear that there is serious incompetence ó or worse, deceit ó at work in the way the DNR is dealing with the Game and Fish Fund. Michigan sportsmen and taxpayers deserve better.
Russ Harding is director of the Property Rights Network for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and education institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.
If you're looking for "serious incompetence" and "deceit" you can start with Russ Harding. He's making a living from it.
Here's the true story from the DNR Director:
"You may have read, heard or seen in various reports lately that the Department of Natural Resources closed its books with a $10 million fund balance in the Game and Fish Protection Fund (revenue from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses). It's important to note and clarify that this in NOT a surplus as being reported by some media. Per the direction of the Natural Resources Commission, we try to maintain a $10 million fund balance in case funding emergencies come up that we need to address immediately. This year we thought we would be well below the goal ($4 million), but through the three reasons listed in my e-mail to staff below, we were able to maintain the goal, but it came at significant cost in the form of program reductions and vacancies. "
Those three reasons she listed were: "1) increased license sales (due to lowering of the hunting age and sales of apprentice licenses); 2) better than projected returns on our investments; and 3) implementation of the Executive Directives limiting travel, filling of vacancies, purchases, etc."
Regardless, the fish and game fund cannot pay for state parks or state forest recreation. That would be a in violation of Michigan's Constitution and federal regulations.
Russ Harding's last big stir was when he proposed selling off a significant number of state parks. He justified it by misquoting Michigan Law. He was unwilling to correct his mistake in personal correspondence I had with him. Then again, had he properly quoted Michigan Law, it would have eliminated the major justification in his article.