REGIONAL— A citizens panel that oversees the Department of Natural Resources’ Game and Fish Fund is once again raising concerns about the fund’s lack of sustainability as revenues …
REGIONAL— A citizens panel that oversees the Department of Natural Resources’ Game and Fish Fund is once again raising concerns about the fund’s lack of sustainability as revenues from license fees fail to keep pace with the expenses of managing the state’s game and fish resources.
That’s the word from the Game and Fish Fund Budgetary Oversight Committee, which issued its fiscal year 2021 report this past week. The committee is made up of nearly two dozen citizens who advise the DNR on the management of the state’s game and fish fund, which spends close to $100 million annually on a wide range of fish and wildlife related management activities.
Fees from fishing and hunting licenses comprise the primary revenue source for the fund. While the COVID-19 pandemic prompted an increase in outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, DNR officials anticipate the trend toward lower license sales will resume once the effects of the pandemic wane.
If so, the citizens oversight board projects that the game and fish fund’s primary fund balance will go negative by 2025.
“There is currently no sustainable funding framework for the GFF [Game and Fish Fund] and despite the state’s record budget surplus, the Legislature failed to provide more funding to the many initiatives supported by the GFF and desperately needed for the DNR to maintain current operational performance,” noted the board in its new report.
“Revenues are still projected to decline overall and expenditures are expected to exceed revenues by $7 to $10 million annually.”
The oversight board contends that the DNR needs a new funding mechanism to replace the license-fee-based model that’s been in effect for decades.
“The traditional user base, i.e., those who purchase fishing and hunting licenses and permits, is shrinking while the benefits from conservation efforts funded by those license sales accrue to society as a whole,” notes the report. “However, expanding the base must also be a part of the strategy, and there needs to be legislative support in order to achieve those ends.”
The oversight board also chastised the DNR for the lengthy delays in updating its electronic licensing system, calling the pace of progress “glacial.”
The board cites numerous reevaluations of the needs of the program in preparation for issuing a Request for Proposals from potential program vendors.
“Considerable time, money, and resources have been spent on this initiative, and even when a partner is selected for developing the new system, it will still be many years before the program is created and implemented,” notes the report. “While surveys have been utilized to help streamline the vetting process, the BOC would like to see the DNR make more decisive decisions and move forward.”
The board also highlighted the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease as a top priority and the board urged better oversight of private deer farms to help stop the spread of the disease into wild deer populations.
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