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MINNESOTA: DNR says it must cut staff by 108 positions

Pioneer Press

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is cutting 108 staff positions to solve a $13.1 million budget problem this year, Deputy Commissioner Steve Morse said Thursday.

"It's gut-wrenching,'' he said. "It really is for this agency.''

In addition to the staff cuts, the agency plans to reduce camping opportunities in some state parks after Labor Day, reduce timber sales and drop next year's academy for new conservation officers.

The DNR was hit with a $5.5 million budget cut during the 2002 legislative session and was told in late June to trim another $7.7 million as part of a $58 million general fund cutback for various state agencies.

The reduction, almost 5 percent of the agency's staff, includes 69 existing vacancies. Layoff notices for 39 positions will go out Aug. 12. It's still unclear how many people will accept early-retirement incentives, according to Morse.

The trims, which could be followed by another round of cuts during the next budget cycle, may not be visible immediately to Minnesotans, but they'll have a long-term impact on the state's natural resources, Morse said.

"Historically, Minnesota has done a good job looking long-term,'' Morse said. "I'm concerned that is unraveling.''

The DNR forestry division will take the biggest hit, losing $2.3 million, including 33 staff positions.

Less timber will be offered for sale and many private forest management plans will be delayed.

The Parks and Recreation Division is being cut $1.7 million, with a host of seasonal workers being forced to end work early. More than a dozen parks will see reduced camping.

They'll be identified next week.

Seven field conservation officer positions will be left vacant. With minimal funding for new hires, Morse said the division will not run its enforcement academy next year.

Other cutbacks include reductions in statewide stream protection and lake monitoring and research efforts.

Along with other agencies, the DNR is preparing for an expected budget shortfall in the 2004-05 fiscal year. The options include a 10 percent budget reduction, which would mean $30 million in cuts for each of the next two years.

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