A case study of how cuts impact one agency
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report



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SEPT. 28, 2003 - - It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure there's probably some connection between the increase in South Carolina's boating deaths and the decrease in the state's number of wildlife officers.

"Exposure to wildlife officers and their presence on the water causes people to be a lot more careful, aware and cautious," said John Frampton, head of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Last year, there were 14 boating deaths in South Carolina. Since last year, DNR has 78 fewer wildlife officers because of state budget cuts. Guess how many boating deaths there have been so far this year? Twenty-nine.

The statistics don't get better. Three of the state's counties - - Anderson, Sumter and Dillon - - have only one wildlife officer. Ten mostly Upstate counties only have two wildlife officers. All totaled, 13 counties with a total land area of 7,248 square miles are served by only 23 wildlife officers. The whole state now has only 212 officers to keep tabs on the 371,000 boats in South Carolina.

Over the last three years, DNR has suffered a 35 percent cut in its state-appropriated dollars. It now gets about $20 million annually from the state, down from $31 million just over 1,100 days ago.

Frampton said his agency continues to function and provide essential services, but many extras are gone.

"We've probably cut everywhere we can cut," he said. "We've made some major changes by consolidating nine law enforcement districts into four. We've closed 12 offices and have got five more to close."

But he says if state agencies like his are forced to make another mid-year cut (there have been seven over the last three years), some things likely will have to go completely.

"You're getting to the point where you're going to have to cut programs, and that's counterproductive. Basically, what we're doing now is providing essential services and which of those do you cut down on?"

Targets could be the department's many education programs that help schoolchildren, particularly those in urban settings, learn about the outdoors. One program, for example, currently generates 2,000 requests for the department to expose students to animals like snakes, alligators and birds.

If wildlife education programs are cut, the director said, students won't have the opportunity to learn to appreciate the state's historic connection to the outdoors. Part of the state's traditions could be lost if they don't learn the value of a vibrant outdoors for the state, he added.

Other targets for cuts could be the myriad of other functions the department does - - climatology, protecting river corridors from development, mapping the state's geology, monitoring aquifers, improving water quality, conducting innovative research on shrimp, crab and fish. The list goes on. The department does a lot more than just deal with hunters and anglers.

More than anything, the Department of Natural Resources is tasked to ensure the state's natural resources remain in good shape so they can be enjoyed by residents and used by the state as a calling card to attract good growth.

Bottom line: If budget cuts cause DNR to lose its abilities to monitor, assess, research and educate people about the state's natural resources, every taxpayer's quality of life will be impacted negatively. How? By more development pressures on lands and waters that need to be protected or harbored from growth. By higher fees. By the loss of critical services. By lower water quality and a decrease in wildlife management.

DNR is just one agency facing cuts. Others face similar crises involving loss of services. Before more services are gone, it's really worth considering whether all of this cutting to save money is really worth hurting our children's future and quality of life.

A watched pot won't boil

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:


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