Following up on our post from January 13, 2013, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Division has released its draft five-year Strategic Plan (click here: DNRfisheriesStrategicPlan2013), which is open for public comment until February 10, 2013.
As was discussed in our January 13th post, a central theme contained in the draft is the importance of the state’s fishery to our overall state economy. To reinforce that point, recent data collected by this site and others suggests the following:
- Estimates for Michigan’s 2012 Travel and Tourism Economy are nearly $18.5 billion.
- Based upon the slight increase in 2012 license sales together with the 2011 NSSF and American Sportfishing Association study, hunting and angling here in Michigan represent about 25% of the total travel and tourism economy and 1.5% of the State’s total GDP.
- Michigan’s fishing economy alone represents about 50% of the total $5 Billion hunting and angling economy.
Since we’ve written nearly all of this before, what’s the point? Given the important role our fisheries represent to Michigan’s economy and quality of life, shouldn’t it be obvious that our reliance on a 1996 license fee structure is not “re-inventive thinking?” It has become increasingly clear that if a solution is to be found to both the near and long term funding shortfalls, it will need to come from the user and constituent groups. It is unlikely to come from publicly-elected or appointed leadership.
Although the Fisheries plan includes a heavy emphasis on new and existing partnership opportunities as a means of finding relief to some budgetary pressures, the plan also includes a “What if” scenario which outlines those measures which may be necessary if… “no additional state funding is provided and angler and boating funding continues to decrease or stay flat?” Here are some of the options which may become necessary:
“Fisheries Division would continue to downsize and discontinue existing programs as described in the following goal areas.”
Here are few of those listed:
- Reduce our ability to conduct and assist partners with habitat improvement projects or fish management activities.
- Decrease investigation in fill kill events.
- Necessitate closing one or more fish hatcheries.
- Reduce or terminate production of walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, and brown trout.
- Reduced capacity for permit review.
- Decreased dam removal assistance.
- Reduced outreach, angler recruitment and marketing ability.
- Increased risk of losing highly-skilled staff to other federal or state agencies.
While we would be the first to concede that there are many other alternative funding solutions which could be pursued, because of the federal funding leveraging opportunities which are unique to license fee dollars, it remains our view that this continues to represent the best near-term solution.
The last license fee increase for Michigan was in 1996. According to our U.S. CPI calculations, it now takes over $22 to buy what $15 could at that time. In addition to the decline in both real and inflation-adjusted revenue to the Game and Fish Funds, the Divisions are now required to absorb future pension liabilities which have historically been “off budget.” This is not to suggest that the Governor’s directive to realign this expense within the program was not appropriate; the point is that it cannot be done without further compounding the funding problem.
As we wrote back in August, this may also represent an opportunity to find a long term solution to the issue of establishing hunting, fishing and trapping license fee levels. The model being referenced at that time was U.S. Senate Bill (S. 2156) which proposed to shift the authority over the price of federal ducks stamps from Congress to a committee which included the Secretary of the Interior, EPA Chief, secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture and bi-partisan members from both the House and Senate.
Given the fact that the Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is a gubernatorial hire, and the members of the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) are similarly appointed, it would appear that sufficient duly-elected public oversight is already in place to make license fee decisions.
If a process were to be created whereby the Director of the DNR could make a license fee recommendation to a committee comprised of the NRC and the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of both the State House and Senate Natural Resources Committees who could ultimately approve, amend, or reject such a proposal, this would seem to be a far better alternative than being solely dependent on the actions, or inaction, of the full State Legislature. This combination of agency professionals, public appointees, and elected officials would also be in a better position to make informed judgements about the purpose and use of these funds than is the general membership of the State House and Senate.
Our final point is this: one cannot lay out a strong case in defense of the economic importance of our state’s commercial and recreational fishery, and then ignore the funding plight which now faces the Fisheries Division.
Absent such a system, it’s clear that the leadership for finding funding solutions will need to come from the collective “us.” If not us, who, and if not now, when?