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Also, be sure to check out the Black Bear Harvest notes towards the bottom of the article
DNR leaves 300 jobs unfilled

by Paul Smith, Outdoors Editor, JSOnline

Posted: Nov. 12, 2009

The last 14 years have taken a toll on the Department of Natural Resources.

Coincidence or not, 1995 was the year the DNR secretary became a political appointee.

Since then, permanent, full-time DNR positions have fallen from 3,114 to 2,746.

That's a loss of 368 positions in a department that has a bigger job each year. More residents. More invasive species. More challenges.

But fewer people to do the work. An additional drop - to 2,674 full-time equivalents - is budgeted for 2010.

The impact hasn't gone unnoticed.

"There are a lot of things that just don't get done," said George Meyer, former DNR secretary who now heads the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. "You can go short-handed for a while, but if it's every day for the rest of your career, the impact is very negative."

Important deer research, for example, and management of land acquired through the Nelson-Knowles Stewardship Fund, is not being performed, said Meyer.

Not only has the number of budgeted positions plummeted, 11% are currently unfilled.

That's right, the DNR currently has 300 vacant full-time jobs.

What's particularly galling to many in the conservation community is 77 of the vacancies are in positions funded directly by license fees and federal excise tax programs.

According to DNR data, 610 positions are supported by Wisconsin license fees paid by hunters, anglers and trappers. Sixty-two are vacant, including 17 in fisheries management, 16 in law enforcement and five in wildlife management.

And of the 101 DNR positions paid for with Sport Fish Restoration Funds or Pittman-Robertson Funds (excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment), 15 are vacant, including nine in fisheries management.

The federal money is available to Wisconsin each year based on the number of licenses sold, population and geographic size. It has no link to state budget shortfalls.

"Well, that's foolish," said Tom Thoresen, a retired DNR warden who now serves on the board of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. "If you've got federally funded positions, you should be maximizing your dollars and using them to get as many people working as you can."

As part of a state government directive, each DNR division did a 10% workload reduction this year, regardless of funding sources.

The vacancies and program cuts have been particularly hard for sportsmen to accept.

"Don't reduce our services when we're paying the bills," said Ed Harvey, executive director of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

License fees from hunters, anglers and trappers provide 41% of the DNR's budget, outstripping all other sources, including even the 27% provided from general state taxes.

Many on the DNR staff continue to soldier on.

"We have had to make some accommodations, but we are trying to get the highest priority things done," said Mike Staggs, DNR fish chief. "We're under a hiring freeze so no additions can be made at this time."

But the smaller staff, forced pay cuts, furloughs and vacancies have reduced DNR morale to an all-time low, staffers say off the record.

And with AB 138, commonly known as the DNR Secretary Bill, sitting on Gov. Jim Doyle's desk, the vacancies take on added meaning, according to many inside and outside the department.

"This is but one example of the many problems stemming from having people in the top DNR jobs who are committed to the governor, not the citizens or natural resources," said a DNR employee who requested anonymity.

You can make your own conclusions. But to a majority of DNR employees and legions of hunters and anglers, going back to 1995 would be progress.

Record black bear harvest: The Department of Natural Resources is tallying the final number, but already the 2009 black bear harvest is a state record. Based on a preliminary report, hunters harvested 3,900 bears this fall, topping the previous high of 3,184 in 1998.

The record was not unexpected. The DNR issued 7,310 bear kill permits this fall, a 57% increase from 2008 and most in state history.

The jump in permits came on the heels of a University of Wisconsin study that estimated the state's bear population at 26,000 to 40,000, a substantial increase from previous studies.

The DNR had set a harvest quota of 4,585 this fall; the final tally will likely fall short.

A rather heavy mast crop, particularly acorns, fell at the start of the bear hunting season and appears to have reduced success rates, said Keith Warnke, DNR big-game ecologist.

When bears have abundant sources of natural food, they hit baited sites less. Hunters with dogs also went first this year in the year-to-year alternation with bait hunters. Warnke said the success of hunters using bait tends to be lower when they follow the hound season.

The 2009 bear hunter success rate is 53% for stubs submitted to date; last year hunters averaged 63% success.

"Overall, we're happy with the season," said Warnke. "There didn't appear to be a problem with overcrowding, which was a concern with the added permits, and hunters we've heard from say the season was a success."

A final report should be available in early December.

Please continue to submit your trail cam photos to [email protected].

1,796 Posts
The DNR is in disrepair because of our Governor. So Is the highway system, the courts and State Patrol. But boy, if you want more free money to go to school so you can move to Chicago with your new degree...

125 Posts
I am an avid supporter of the DNR's intended mission and I mean no disrespect to the hard working rank and file DNR employees. However, my problem is with the lackadaisical leadership and politicians. I think it is high time that the DNR and ALL govt agencies learn to do more with less just like all businesses have in order to survive. It is ridiculous that all these govt agencies can continue to spend and grow at tax payers (and license holder in this case) expense while everybody who pays those bills struggles to improve and become more efficient. 12% decline over 14 yrs sounds pretty pathetic to me, they should be striving for year over yr improvement at current license rates. My company is cutting 10% THIS YEAR, so forgive me if I don't sympathize with 12% over 14 yrs. If this was a company stock I sure wouldn't want to buy it.
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