Enforcement, Natural Areas, Invasives Fuel Increases in DLNR Budget for 2007

posted in: June 2006 | 0

On the whole, the Department of Land and Natural Resources fared pretty well in the state budget for fiscal year 2007. Total operational expenses allowed for the department in the year that starts July 1 come to $91,127,749. When stacked up against the total operating budget for all state agencies of $9.6 billion, that means the DLNR comes in with nearly 1 percent (0.94895 of one percent, to be precise). That may not seem like much, but it’s a modest improvement compared to recent years.

In the 2005 budget, the DLNR’s share of the total operating budget of $7.9 billion came to $73 million, or about nine-tenths of a percent. In the current fiscal year just concluding, the share was a dismal eighty-six hundredths of a percent; even though the department’s budget for the year had grown slightly (by about $4 million) over the previous year, it didn’t keep pace with overall state spending levels.

For 2007, though, the DLNR came out pretty well. Many of the positions lost in the 2005 budget process (when the DLNR saw 67 permanent positions fly out the window – more than one in every five positions cut by the Legislature that year) were restored. The DLNR was authorized to have 682 full-time permanent jobs for fiscal 2006. For the coming year, that number rises to 718.

Why the turnaround?

Part of the reason is almost certainly that the state is enjoying boom times. It would be cruel indeed if the DLNR did not share in the wealth.

Another major factor in the department’s rising fortunes is the Legacy Lands Act passed by the 2005 Legislature. That diverts part of the conveyance tax into a special Land Conservation Fund that the department can use to purchase lands having high conservation value. It also allows the Natural Area Reserves System to use part of the NAR special fund to manage state-owned reserves (in addition to paying the state share of natural area partnerships and forest stewardship plans proposed by private landowners).

Finally, the Legislature seems to have become sensitized to the need to address invasive species, with much more attention being given this issue than in prior years.

Reportable Enforcement

The Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement gained 16 of the 36 new permanent DLNR positions authorized for 2007. The Lingle administration had not asked for the positions. Instead, the governor’s budget had proposed funds to allow the DLNR Division of Boating and Division of State Parks to contract with private firms for beefed-up security at small harbors and state parks. Of the new positions, 11 are for enforcement officers: 4 on O`ahu, 3 on the Big Island, 3 on Maui, and 1 on Kaua`i. With the changes, DOCARE’s authorized permanent position count rises to 134 (from 118).

But the budget boon comes at a cost. The Legislature is requiring the agency to prepare “monthly reports by branch on all enforcement activities, including forestry, state parks, cruise ship, and ocean-based enforcement activities.” The reports have to be delivered to the office of the Land Board chairman within 20 days of the close of each month. If the reports are late, the department is to be dinged $10,000 for each business day the report remains overdue, with the Land Board chairman required to deposit the late assessments into the general fund.

The Division of Forestry and Wildlife gained six new permanent positions. But within this agency, some branches did better than others. The Natural Area Reserves System gained one permanent position and more than $6 million in operating expenses. Of that, $4.7 million comes from the Natural Area Reserve Fund. Some $1.2 million of that, in turn, is to be used to hire 20 temporary workers (three administrative, with the rest in the field), with $3.19 million used to support NARS watershed projects. On top of that, $2 million from the NAR Fund is authorized to be spent on coqui frog control ($50,000 each on Kaua`i and O`ahu; $100,000 on Maui; $300,000 on Hawai`i island, with $500,000 earmarked for the Department of Agriculture to conduct research and assist with coqui eradication on the Big Island, and $1 million earmarked as an outright grant to Hawai`i County, for assistance with coqui eradication).

The DOFAW budget for forest and wildlife resources gained four permanent positions, but it saw funds appropriated for the Hawai`i Invasive Species Council reduced by $2 million. (That money was diverted to the Department of Agriculture’s Plant, Pest, and Disease Control program, with instructions for the DOA to use it to add 41 positions, including 25 plant quarantine inspectors and 14 plant quarantine technicians; to conduct studies, and to purchase equipment for pest control. In addition, that same DOA program received funds from the state Airports and Harbors special funds to allow hiring 11 temporary workers to increase inspections at ports of entry.)

Concerns over invasive species also prompted the Legislature to restore funds to the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources for the temporary hire of a biologist to coordinate efforts to prevent aquatic invaders from entering the state in ballast water or on hulls of arriving vessels.

The state Commission on Water Resource Management, administered through the DLNR, saw its authorized staff rise by two – to 24 now. It also received a significant budget increase of $650,000, earmarked for a study of streams prerequisite to establishing instream flow standards.

The largest budget gain by any DLNR agency was seen by the Land Division. It received an infusion of $4 million from the Land Conservation special fund established by the 2005 Legislature and fueled by a portion of the conveyance tax revenues. With this, the division is authorized to hire two temporary workers to administer the program. Also, it is supposed to “form partnerships with other county agencies and non-profit land conservation organizations, and acquire conservation easements or fee title in private lands with unique natural resource values.”

— Patricia Tummons

Volume 16, Number 12 June 2006

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