In his 2015-2017 proposed budget, the governor proposes numerous changes to the way state government should work in the future. Certain items have made headlines (e.g., public authority for the UW System), but the forestry budget has not yet received much attention. A recent e-mail from Paul DeLong, Chief State Forester and DNR Division of Forestry Administrator, to the Wisconsin Council on Forestry and “interested parties” outlines the impacts of the proposed budget. The text of Paul’s February 5, 2015 e-mail in italics follows.
I am writing to provide you a brief outline of forestry-related provisions in the Governor’s proposed FY’15-17 budget.
- One provision in the budget directs the department to develop a plan to move the Division of Forestry headquarters to a northern Wisconsin location, including a description of the costs of relocation, a timeline for implementation, and a list of location options. The plan would be submitted by the department for consideration by the Governor for inclusion in the FY’17-19 budget.
- The Governor is also proposing a change in how we administer the MFL. Specifically, the department would no longer be responsible for approving cutting notices filed by Cooperating Foresters, as long as the proposed practice is consistent with the landowner’s MFL plan. This provision is accompanied by a proposed reduction of 4 FTEs to reflect the reduced workload. A related provision directs the department to allow Cooperating Foresters to complete NHI reviews before timber sales.
- The Governor is proposing a modification to the urban forestry grant program, focusing future grants on catastrophic storm recovery and projects related to removing, saving and replacing trees damaged by insect infestations.
The Governor also is proposing a modest increase in DNR operations funding for ruggedized computers for our law enforcement personnel and field data recorders for our staff in the field.
- The budget proposes that the Stewardship program be focused more narrowly as part of a larger effort to limit overall bonding. Although land acquisition — including state land, working forest easements and county forest acquisition – will be suspended, the capital development side of Stewardship will continue.
- The budget proposes eliminating the rule-making and policymaking powers of the Natural Resources Board and converting it to an advisory council.
- As part of a budget provision eliminating a number of capacity grants, the budget eliminates grants for several forestry-related organizations including the Wisconsin County Forest Association, Gathering Waters Conservancy and Master Logger Program.
- The budget transfers administration of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway and Kickapoo Reserve (both of which you may recall are funded in part with Forestry Account funds) to DNR from Tourism. They would be managed by DNR’s Lands Division.
- The budget proposal eliminates forest and park road funding, a portion of which we have been using for local road aids for towns within our state forests. The budget also proposes raising park visitor fees and camping fees as part of a proposal to shift State Parks off GPR funding entirely. The fee increases will apply to State Forest users as well.
- The budget proposes a reduction in the number of DNR researchers, communications specialists and educators. Capacity in all three areas will remain, albeit at reduced levels. In addition, a portion of the positions reduced will be transferred to the Department of Tourism to support the creation of an Office of Marketing, serving all state agencies.
- The department (like other agencies) has an overall reduction in FTEs based on vacant positions. A total of 66 FTEs are proposed for reduction. We do not yet know how many will be Forestry positions (over and above the 4 FTE cut mentioned above) but we do anticipate having a share in those reductions as well.
As most of you know, the budget process is a long process. Items in the budget can, and often do, change. We anticipate decisions about the budget will be completed by July 1, 2015. We will provide updates to you as the budget works its way through the process.