In tough economic times, decreased revenues at the state level have trickled down. A lack of funding is putting a squeeze on DNR, and the latest spending cut is mandatory furloughs for all DNR employees, except for employees with the Environmental Protection Division (EPD).
DNR Commissioner Chris Clark said his department is looking at a 25-percent cut in funding heading into FY 2010, which starts in July, and the furloughs are a part of meeting those cuts. The furloughs are one day a month for every DNR employee with the exception of EPD employees. They begin July 1 and will last through December.
Explaining the absence of EPD from the furloughs, Clark said while EPD does fall under the DNR umbrella, it is not subject to the same command structure as the other divisions. DNR did not have the authority to order furloughs for EPD.
“It’s everything from equipment, to vacant positions to these furloughs. This is not a normal budget cut time. We’re having to cut extensively,” Clark said. “This is just another method to try and achieve some savings. And we’re trying to have the least impact we can on services and public safety.
“Depending on the state of the economy, we may have to extend the budget cuts into the next year or we may be able to end those furloughs if the economy turns around.”
DNR has announced some its most severe cutbacks in the State Parks division, which faces closures and lay-offs for 130 employees. However, the cuts continue to hit sportsmen’s programs hard. These furloughs are just the next cut for WRD, which is 80 percent funded through license sales and federal excise taxes on outdoors equipment.
“We very much realize the impact sportsmen have, and we’re going to have to work closely with sportsmen over the next year to minimize the impact to sportsmen’s programs,” Clark said. “Take the reduced closures at WMAs. We worked with sportsmen to get funding from the General Assembly to save some of those WMAs. That was a victory.”
He was speaking of the recent 51,000 acres in WMA closures which was actually less than was expected for the Game Management division. Game Management Chief Mark Whitney said his division will just have to continue trying to concentrate on priorities.
“I don’t think you’ll see us attending to things as quickly. You probably won’t be seeing freshly painted signs or freshly marked boundaries on the WMAs,” said Whitney. He added, “Right now were not looking at reducing staffing or any other WMA closures.”
As for DNR Law Enforcement, Chief Col. Terry West said his division is scrambling to keep boots on the ground during peak periods. He said his employees prefer the furloughs, which equate to a 5 percent pay cut, to permanent pay cuts or layoffs.
“Most of our people would prefer to take furloughs than see one of their co-workers lose their job,” he said, which is something Law Enforcement has experienced, having lost 20 percent of its ranger positions since 2002.
“We’re just trying to make sure we have the most officers we can during our peak hours,” he said. “And of course we’re facing some major boating holidays in that six-month period. It’s tough, but we’re taking every measure we can to reduce the impact on our constituents.”