Plan for Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is to do more with less

The budget will be leaner, but the parks will be cleaner, at least when it comes to litter along roads and on public lands in Southern Nevada.

That’s one of the aspects of the governor’s proposal for funding Nevada’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for the next two years. A joint Senate-Assembly budget subcommittee is scheduled to review the department’s funding issues today.

Under Gov. Jim Gibbons’ plan for the department, staffing positions will decrease, and funding levels will be reduced by more than 18 percent.

But the Forestry Division will see 17 new positions created to run a conservation camp in Southern Nevada where inmates are used to clean up litter on public lands and help fight wild-land fires. Overall, however, full-time positions will decrease to 203, from 214, in the division and the seasonal staff will be reduced to 40 positions, from 47.

Across the department, cutbacks will have minimal impact on services provided by the nine divisions and regulatory agencies, Director Allen Biaggi said.

"These cuts do hit us hard, but we still believe we can meet our statutory obligations. Everybody’s going to have to work a little harder and buckle down," Biaggi said in a telephone interview last week.

The Forestry Division’s 17 positions will be added under an expansion of the Three Lakes Valley Conservation Camp near Indian Springs, about 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The camp’s staff oversees inmates from the nearby Department of Corrections prison to fight wild-land fires and refurbish trails and maintain public lands and natural resources.

With closure of the Silver Springs camp last year and one scheduled to close at Tonopah in June, the Forestry Division will continue to operate eight conservation camps including Three Lakes Valley.

The expansion is prompted an increase of 94 inmates at Indian Springs in April 2010. The number will increase to 210 by August 2010, according to Biaggi’s budget overview.

That means the division will hire 16 new crew supervisors and a camp supervisor.

Overall, however, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will reduce staffing positions across its nine entities by 33, down to 681 from 714 in the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

Because some positions are vacant and will be phased out, the reductions translate to layoffs of between 10 and 12 people, as some full-time positions will be changed to part-time, Biaggi said.

"We’ve made a big effort to see if there are opportunities for people in other programs to keep people employed," he said.

The budget proposal calls for spending roughly $52 million in general fund money during fiscal years 2010 and 2011. That represents an 18.2 percent decrease from the $63.5 million fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

Adding grants and federal reimbursement for regulatory services some of the agencies provide, the department’s budget for fiscal year 2010 under the governor’s plan, should it be approved by the Legislature, will be $101.3 million, down from $103.1 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Similarly, the budget proposed for 2011 is nearly $103 million.

The impact from cutbacks could be apparent to visitors to some of the 25 state parks in Nevada.

The State Parks Division is bracing for a funding decrease of more than 21 percent with biennium reductions of more than $3.24 million that will leave about $15.27 million to run the parks.

That translates to seasonal closures, keeping some parks closed or changing the days they are open and reducing the division’s staff of 100 employees by 13.

In the Water Resources Division, a reduction of 11 positions means it will probably take the technical staff longer to process water rights applications, creating a backlog that the division "had been working very hard on to bring down," Biaggi said.

He said the staff also won’t be able to inspect dams "as frequently as we like."

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at or 702-383-0308.

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