The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is one of this state’s smallest agencies, employing about 39,000 people. In 2010-11, total agency spending was over $529 million, of which the Fish and Wildlife Account supplied $103 million. Fishing and hunting licenses and stamps make up 67 percent of that account. Another 20 percent comes from Federal excise taxes (Sport Fish Restoration and Pittman-Robertson) on your purchases of gear related to hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. The rest of the account is filled from miscellaneous grants, donations, state land timber sales and other sources.
For each dollar you spend on a license or habitat stamp, 57 cents goes to Fisheries and Wildlife Management. Another 19 cents goes to law enforcement. The rest (24 cents) goes to customer service, regional management, Bureau of Facilities and Lands, and support and administration. Following is a partial list of what 179 Wildlife Management employees did with $29 million of your money.
• Expanded the National Archery in the Schools Program and hosted 700+ students at the largest indoor archery tournament in Wisconsin
• Deer research projects in northwest and east central Wisconsin focusing including fawn predation and buck mortality
• Involved hunters in assessing wildlife populations using surveys and deer registration forms
• Collected waterfowl and mammal harvest and age data, conducted license surveys and banded 11,000 birds
• National leader in using surveys for birds normally difficult to detect: owls, nightjars, marsh birds
• Initiated the second bear population tetracycline study
• Recorded a 2010 bear harvest of 5,133, the highest regulated bear harvest on record
• Provided wildlife watching opportunities
• Developed, with partners, a Sharp-tailed Grouse Management Plan
• Completed northern Wisconsin beaver survey
• Implemented an online turkey registration system and a telephone/online turkey harvest reporting system
• Used turkey, pheasant and duck stamp revenue for wetland, grassland, savanna and forestry projects
• Managed 178 state wildlife areas across 620,000 acres for hunting, trapping, fishing, wildlife watching and more
• Launched the Voluntary Public Access Program, which added 12,000 acres of new public hunting land
• Developed non-forest biomass harvest guidelines
• Developed the Wild Rice Plan
• Investigated techniques to restore lake shorelands and assessed wildlife response to lake shoreland restoration in northern Wisconsin.
(source: Your Investment in Wisconsin’s Fish and Wildlife PUB-CE-4022 2012)
As you can see, there is a lot more to wildlife management than deer. There are numerous accomplishments by wildlife, fisheries, and law enforcement that you may or may not ever see. For more information, look up annual reports on the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov.
So those are license dollars-where does tax money go? Well, frankly, very little general tax revenue is used in Natural Resource management. Some states such as Minnesota and Missouri have added dedicated sales tax revenue for natural resources. Here in Wisconsin, though, we have a history of funding wildlife management work with license sales. Looking to the future, we will need to find additional funding sources to do our work.
Right now, there is a proposal before the legislature for building a Permanent “Public Lands” Endowment for Wisconsin with Voluntary Private Contributions. Companion bills AB 589 (Assembly) and SB 441 (Senate) would enable the DNR to request an optional, voluntary $2 contribution from citizens who purchase a license, park sticker or register an ATV or snowmobile. The contributions would go to Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (a statewide, non-profit organization) to create a permanent endowment to support management of state-owned lands, specifically funding wildlife habitat enhancement work.
Founded in 1986, the Natural Resources Foundation (NRF) is basically a “friends” group to the Department of Natural Resources. The Foundation manages the Wisconsin Conservation Endowment, a fund that contains 54 separate endowments with $2.8 million in assets. For more information on NRF, you can check out their website, wisconservation.org. You can even “friend” our “friends” group on Facebook.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR in Rhinelander, and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.