Saving ODNR’ Division of Natural Areas & Preserves
Elimination of DNAP: In 2009, with a reduction in GRF monies, Director Sean Logan dismantled DNAP. Instead of scaling back DNAP to accommodate the reduction in GRF funding levels, he spent the $1.7 million allocated to DNAP in GRF funding for the FY10-11 biennium all in the first year leaving no funding for FY 11. He then transferred all DNAP employees to other ODNR divisions including the 9 preserve managers to the Division of Parks & Recreation, the Natural Heritage Program to the Division of Wildlife, and the Scenic Rivers Program to the Division of Watercraft. In order to pay for the salaries of these preserve managers who, as park employees, were still managing state nature preserves, Logan introduced an amendment in May of 2010 to Am. Sub. S.B. 181 legalizing the use of $1.6 million in private donations from the Natural Areas Income Tax Check-off (Fund 522) for this purpose. This amendment along with the normal preserve management operating costs charged against Fund 522 will essentially exhaust funding for DNAP by the end of FY11.
The Threat Continues: Even under the new Kasich Administration. Sean Logan’s legacy for dismantling DNAP continues. If the Executive Budget prepared by ODNR and submitted as part of the new State Budget Bill for FY12-13 is adopted as originally written, the Division of Natural Areas & Preserves will officially cease to exist as of July 1, 2011, the beginning of FY12. Preserve managers will be further merged into Parks, filling assistant manager and other vacant positions within the Division of Parks & Recreation. GRF monies that would have been allocated to DNAP and DNAP equipment will go to Parks. The Natural Areas Income Tax Check-off will become a State Parks/Natural Areas check-off with the Chief of Parks determining how these funds will be shared with State Parks.
Republican Law Makers to the Rescue: Representative Dave Hall (R-97 District) introduced an amendment to Sub. H.B.153, (the state budget bill for FY12-13) that will (1) retain the statute that created DNAP, keeping DNAP as its own stand-alone division, and (2) keep the DNAP Income Tax Check-off as a funding source exclusively for the management of DNAP. The Ohio House of Representatives passed Hall’s amendment and sent the Budget Bill on to the Senate.
Senators Kevin Bacon (R-3rd District) and David Daniels (R-17th District) have added an amendment to Sub.H.B.153 that will restore the Natural Areas Council essentially as it was originally established in 1970. This and the amendment passed by the House are critical to a plan developed and proposed by retired DNAP administrators Richard E. Moseley, Guy Denny, and Jim McGregor to keep DNAP functional and viable, albeit at a significantly scaled down level utilizing private donations, seasonal workers, and volunteers.
ODNR’s Position: On May 5th, ODNR officials testified before the Senate Finance Committee requesting, among other things, that $589,382 in proposed budget cuts to the Division of Parks & Recreation for the biennium be restored. They testified this proposed budget reduction will “impede the division’s ability to provide services to Ohioans.” Yet, included in their testimony was the following: “If the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves remains a division (as opposed to being integrated into Ohio State Parks as proposed in the Executive Budget) the department will have a structural hole in its budget. We ask the Senate to reinstate the language as proposed in the Executive budget.” ODNR officials have said they plan to have the Division of Parks & Recreation manage the state nature preserves, and seem to have good intentions to do just that as best they can. However, considering the rather large cuts to the State Park’s operating budget over the last several years as well as the additional cuts they are facing during the next biennium, to take on additional management responsibilities for DNAP, another land managing division, seem rather unrealistic. Parks are obviously having a difficult time just managing their own state park facilities and providing services to Ohioans.
The Plan to Save DNAP: It is clear that ODNR does not plan to allocate any GRF funding to keep DNAP alive. Understandably, their priority is to keep the State Parks functioning as best they can. Anyone familiar with State Park operations knows their financial situation is real and very serious. That is why the plan developed to keep DNAP in operation does not require GRF funding. That plan is as follows: (1) By keeping the enabling legislation on the books without actually staffing DNAP, a structure remains in place for rebuilding the division once the economy turns around. If the division is abolished, it will be virtually impossible to get it restored. (2) Of the existing nature preserves, 59 are managed by other entities. Of the remaining sites, it would be helpful to transfer daily management responsibilities to other land managing entities. All but 28 of these sites do not require immediate action since they are situated within or adjacent to a state park, wildlife area, or state forest. Others have no designated public access facilities and/or only limited public access. (3) Private donations from the income tax check-off can be used to hire seasonal workers to manage nature preserves on a seasonal basis. And (4) Re-establishing the Natural Areas Council as it was originally created will provide a working council of dedicated professionals who can carry out most of the workload including promoting the income tax check-off, fund raising, recruiting and coordinating volunteers, conducting site inspections, working with landowners, conducting public programs, drafting management agreements, etc.
Next Step: After SUB. H.B.153 passes the Senate, a Joint Conference Committee comprised of Senators Chris Widener, Shannon Jones and Mike Skindell in the Senate and Representatives Ron Amstutz, John Carey, Jr. and Vernon Sykes in the House will hammer out the final wording in the Budget Bill. As long as the amendments stay in place, and there is no effort by ODNR to remove them, the final hurdle will be that of working with ODNR to cooperatively put the plan into action. ODNR has the option of either working in good faith to make the plan successful or they could ignore the amendments all together. More than likely, they will come down some place in between. That is why it is critical for Director Mustine to hear from a sizable DNAP constituency that supports the amendments in the Budget Bill that will allow the survival plan for DNAP to be put into action. Now it is up to you to send that email right away to firstname.lastname@example.org. Time is of the essence, send your email today!