Budget cuts won’t destroy the DNR

IBy Gene Merriam in these tough budget times, it is tempting to focus only on those things we are losing: the things we can no longer afford. It is important to pause and remember, however, that we still have the things we value most. That is especially true when we think about Minnesota’s great outdoor heritage.

Typically, when governments are forced to reduce their budgets, they slice last year’s budget from the bottom and sides until a dollar goal is met. This is akin to taking a 20-foot fishing boat and hacking it into a 16-foot canoe. Will it float? Perhaps. But it is no canoe.

The course we have set at the Department of Natural Resources – at the direction of Gov. Tim Pawlenty – is to build our canoe from the ground up, by identifying our most important tasks and making sure we’re doing them well. We will continue to provide high-demand public services, such as maintaining our state parks and park campgrounds. We are maintaining the integrity of dedicated funds, including hunting and fishing license fees, to ensure that money is spent as intended. We are mindful of public safety as we retain adequate funding for things like wildfire suppression.

Another priority in these tough economic times is to preserve those programs that impact our economy, such as timber sales. Many jobs depend on forest products, especially in northern Minnesota. So we’re taking steps to ensure adequate timber stands will continue to be available for harvest.

In the short time since this administration began, we’ve already made many important decisions, but our budget is still a work in progress because we have an obligation to be as thorough and thoughtful as possible. Will there be pain? Yes. We estimate at least 100 DNR employees will face layoffs. We are proposing modest increases in some user fees, where those fees don’t currently cover the cost of those services.

As we make these tough choices, I pledge, as the governor has, to make them openly and candidly. A task as important as preserving the long-term health of Minnesota’s cherished natural resources requires nothing less.

Gene Merriam is the DNR commissioner. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]